Highlights from the Parish President’s Report of the St. Martin Parish Council Committee Meetings of February 15, 2022
RENEWAL OF SALES TAX FOR SALES TAX DISTRICT 1
On January 6, 2022, the Council adopted Resolution Number 22-001-RS calling for an election on April 30, 2022, seeking approval of the renewal of the one cent sales tax for Sales Tax District 1. For the reasons hereinafter set forth, the resolution was significantly different than most tax resolutions in that it also recognized that an emergency situation existed which mandated that the election be held on April 30, 2022. If the election was not held that date, then the next available election date would be November 13, 2022.
As I have previously informed you, there is an issue with the April 30th date since it is within six months of the election held on November 13, 2021, when the tax renewal failed. As such, special note should be taken of Article VI, Section 30 of the La. Constitution which states in pertinent part:
“… no political subdivision shall submit the same tax proposition, or a new tax proposition that includes such a tax proposition, to the electorate more than once within a six-month period except in case of an emergency as determined by the governing authority of the political subdivision.” (Emphasis supplied)
The election date of April 30, 2022 is thirteen days short of the six-month period.
Consequently, special approval of the April 30th election by the State Bond Commission is necessary. In essence, the Bond Commission must concur with the Parish that there are indeed compelling circumstances which support an “emergency” determination so as to sanctify, constitutionally, the April 30th election date.
On January 24, 2022, I was advised by Jason Akers of Foley and Judell that the staff for the Bond Commission had several questions/areas of concern about our application. Sean Hundley, Director of Finance, immediately accumulated financial information relative to the Bond Commission’s inquiry while I prepared a “position paper” of sorts justifying the validity of our emergency declaration. Mr. Akers reviewed the data presented and suggested some revisions. Thus, on Monday, January 31, 2022, our final report was submitted to the Commission.
Thereafter, the Commission submitted a notice that on February 8, 2022, at 8:00 A.M., the Elections Subcommittee of the Bond Commission would consider our application for an April 30th date. A representative of the Parish was requested to be present to appear before the Subcommittee in order to present our position and respond to any questions. I committed to personally be present so that the Parish’s arguments could be outlined, and all questions of the Subcommittee answered directly.
At the hearing before the Subcommittee on February 8, 2022, I explained that on May 4, 2021, the Parish originally called for the election for October 8, 2021, on the basis that if the tax failed, it could be resubmitted for voter approval on April 30, 2022. The October date was the product of a deliberative process and not arbitrarily selected. However, the October 8th election date was postponed until November 13, 2021, by Executive Order of the Governor as the result of the devastation associated with Hurricane Ida which struck the State on August 28, 2021. BUT FOR the foregoing unexpected and unforeseen events, the October 8th date would have been maintained.
Furthermore, I noted that the next election date after April 30, 2022, would be November 13, 2022. This date would be AFTER the expiration of the sales tax on October 1, 2022. Hence, even if approved by the electorate, the tax would not be effective until several months thereafter. Thus, the Parish would lose, according to our analysis of past sales tax collections for the District, several months of revenue which would total close to, if not more than 1.8 million dollars.
Next, I gave an overview of the importance of the tax given the number of roads and bridges within the Parish, emphasizing that most of the Parish revenue is specifically dedicated to other matters. Thus, in the event the tax is not collected, our roads and bridges could not be maintained effectively and at their current level.
Hence, I postulated that the “emergency” situation envisioned by Article VI, Section 30 of the Louisiana Constitution was clearly applicable to the matter before the Commission. Fortunately, the Commission, by unanimous vote, approved the emergency declaration and the April 30th election date. You should note that the finding of the Subcommittee must be presented to the entire Bond Commission at its next regular meeting of February 22, 2022. According to Mr. Akers, approval by the full Commission should be fairly pro forma exercise. Nonetheless, I will be present for the full Commission meeting. On an “FYI” basis the Subcommittee consisted of the Attorney General (a representative), the Commissioner of Administration, Secretary of State, President of the Senate, State Treasurer, and Speaker of the House.
I again note that the public does not fully grasp the import of this tax and the number of roads and bridges which the Parish is obligated to maintain. We have over 750 roads and 45 bridges. The total mileage of Parish roads is almost 400 miles. Likewise, the cost of maintenance is not fully understood. We must, therefore, vigorously and diligently educate the electorate on the necessity of the renewal of this critical tax. I will most assuredly appear before any group or organization which any of you believe would be interested in a presentation about the tax renewal.
ITEM 2 OF ADMINISTRATIVE-FINANCE COMMITTEE AGENDA-CEA WITH CAJUN BROADBAND
As you will recall, last month I reported that:
“Notwithstanding the foregoing, there have been significant developments, all positive, in the recent weeks. First, I have crystallized negotiations with several companies for broadband services. Final decisions/agreements are dependent upon awards for funding through the Louisiana Office of Broadband Development & Connectivity. Several millions of dollars are available for broadband expansion in unserved and underserved rural areas through what is known as the GUMBO program created by state legislation adopted last Summer. Applications were due December 31, 2021. The projects embraced by my plan and “in-principle” agreements were part of the applications submitted by the providers with whom I have dealt. Indeed, our commitments are significant factors included in the grading process for the GUMBO awards.
The three providers submitting applications are Cajun Broadband for services which embrace the Cade Community to St. Martinville, Allen Communications for services in lower St. Martin and upper St. Martin from Division Road in Arnaudville extending down La. 31 to near Declouet Highway and down La. 686 to near Cecilia High School Road, and LUSFiber for coverages down La. Highway 94 and the Cecilia Community. These three endeavors will provide services to over 7,000 residences, and in excess of 500 commercial facilities. They entail approximately 150 miles of fiber. I will be happy to meet with any of you at any time to examine the particular areas embraced by the applications. Please note that this is simply the first step. Once the GUMBO awards are announced, I will prepare a detailed report for each of you.
The second development which has occurred recently is that Treasury rendered a final rule on January 6, 2022, which allows local parishes to utilize the ARPA funds for general revenue purposes up the ten million dollars. While this will not affect the current plans, it will allow the money to be used without moving funds around as we were forced to do in order to comply with the prior “interim final rules.”
Finally, it must be noted that TO DATE we have received only the first portion of ARPA funds. The allotment to which St. Martin Parish is entitled under ARPA is 10.3 million dollars, payable in two equal tranches. The second allotment will be released in March 2022. At that time, I will feel more comfortable with the implementation of our plans since I do not want to finalize anything until the ‘money is in the bank.’ ”
Cajun Broadband has elected to proceed with the installation of fiber in a significant portion of the southwestern portion of the Parish irrespective of its GUMBO application. The company proposes to install 73,000 feet of fiber to the home that will embrace over 700 households and 75 businesses.
Using budgeted ARPA proceeds, the Parish will contribute $1.5 million dollars toward the infrastructure costs. Moreover, the minimum speeds of the services to be provided will be 100 mbps/100 mbps, scalable to 1000/1000. The rate structure will be identical to its current rates which are market compatible.
Additional requirements must be met by CAJUN. First, this project is merely Phase 1 of Cajun’s overall broadband plan for the Parish. The company will continue to pursue its current GUMBO application for Phase 2 which will consist of the installation of an additional 74,000 feet of fiber to service over 700 households in our Parish. If the GUMBO application is not successful, Cajun will apply for Round 2 funding via GUMBO at which time another $100 million will be available in grant money. The Parish has agreed to provide an additional $300,000 match for this project phase which will cost in excess of $2 million dollars. All of St. Martin Parish facilities in both project areas will be provided free services as well as all schools. Moreover, Cajun’s rate structure must be at least the average of all providers offering compatible services in the Parish.
This week, I am scheduled to confer with representatives of Cajun and the law firm which I have retained to assist/advise the Parish relative to this matter. Our specific focus will be completing the Cooperative Endeavor Agreement, the discussion of which appears under Item 2 of your Administrative/Finance Committee Agenda.
To my knowledge, this will be first CEA relative to Broadband services embraced by either ARPA or GUMBO funding in this region, if not the entire state. Finally, I note that the APC has reviewed my overall plans and has opined that our approach is cogent. Finally, our monetary commitment is in the FY 2022 budget which has been adopted.
ITEM 4 OF ADMINISTRATIVE-FINANCE COMMITTEE AGENDA-RURAL HEALTH CARE CLINIC
The development of the rural health clinic in Cecilia continues to evolve. As background information, I refer to these remarks from my reports of April 21, 2021, and December 21, 2021:
April 21, 2021:
“The previous technology building next to Paul Angelle Park in Cecilia has been vacant for several years and provides no service currently for anyone. Moreover, you will recall that in 2017, Hospital District No. 1 was abolished and pursuant to an Intergovernmental Agreement with St. Landry Parish, the assets were divided. Last year, I completed the necessary transactions which resulted in the Parish receiving the bulk of the accumulated cash, approximately $800,000. These proceeds were the product of ad valorem taxes paid by the residents in northern St. Martin Parish and a portion of St. Landry Parish, the area embraced by the jurisdictional boundaries of the former HSD #1. The taxes were imposed and paid for the express purpose of health care.
Although, the current proceeds can be used for general purposes, I concluded that it would be improper not to research whether there was the potential to use the money for healthcare pursuits within the jurisdictional boundaries of the former HSD#1. In early 2020, I began to explore potential healthcare uses in region, but my efforts were thwarted by the COVID-19 Pandemic. I have now re-instituted an evaluation of my plans which are set forth below.
First, it cannot be argued that there is a need for healthcare services in the northern region of the Parish. Second, there is the former technology center, now vacant, situated next to Paul Angelle Park in the heart of the St. Martin Parish portion of the former HSD #1 district. Third, there are proceeds which can be utilized to renovate the building so as to accommodate healthcare pursuits. Therefore, I met with representatives of Ochsner Lafayette General relative to the conversion of that facility into a wellness/community care facility and the confection of an accord whereby they would lease and operate it, reserving the right to use a part of the facility to operate our health unit. Ochsner Lafayette General has embraced the concept, and jointly, we have commenced studying the cost of renovation and defining the parameters of a prospective agreement. We are proceeding in much the same manner as with Ochsner St. Martin Hospital. I am excited and optimistic about the prospect of this plan becoming a reality.
Moreover, this idea blends very well with my plans of consolidating the Breaux Bridge Health Unit and Cecilia Health Unit, with the product being one facility situated in Cecilia. Of course, I will keep you updated as we proceed with this endeavor.”
December 21, 2021:
“In July 2021, preliminary estimates for the cost to renovate the former technology center to accommodate medical clinicians and to possibly house a behavioral unit specializing in opioid addictions fell well within our budgetary abilities. Furthermore, in accordance with my previous presentations to you relative to the use of a portion of the Parish’s ARPA funds for the construction of the clinic, and pursuant to the recently adopted 2022 budget, construction plans have now been finalized. As I prepare this report, I am awaiting receipt of an operational agreement from Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center which will define the monthly lease/management fee to be paid to the Parish as well as other terms and conditions of the accord. This project is possible as a result of the funds which the Parish received in the agreement with St. Landry Parish upon the abolition of the former Hospital Services District No. 1 which included portions of both St. Martin and St. Landry Parishes. Furthermore, these funds originated from a millage dedicated to providing healthcare services to the abolished district. Although not legally required, the use of the funds for healthcare pursuits satisfies the conditions and purposes of the millage as approved and authorized by the electorate.
The facility, as designed, will have the capability to house at least two physicians and have six exam rooms and a fully functional laboratory. If all proceeds as planned, the project should be let for bids in January or February of 2022.
I will continue to regularly meet with Ochsner representatives to insure we keep this project on track, and I will keep each of you informed of the progress we make in this endeavor to provide quality medical services to our rural communities.”
As alluded to previously, the project continues to move forward. The final plans and specifications are near completion and thus submission for bids. Note that the architectural firm preparing the specifications and plans for the renovation frequently works with Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center and is acutely experienced in the design of such facilities.
More importantly, I will be requesting the introduction and adoption of an ordinance approving the operational agreement with Ochsner Lafayette General for the facility. Since the accord will be in the nature of a lease, an ordinance is required as opposed to a resolution. The proposed agreement provides for a term of five (5) years and will compensate the parish at a monthly rate of $3,750.00. All employees (physicians and nurse practitioners included) assigned to the Clinic will be associated/employed by LGMC which will also be responsible for all professional liability insurance for them. All equipment and furniture will be provided by LGMC at its cost. It will be the sole responsibility of LGMC to insure the contents of the facility. Moreover, the area will be segregated by a fence identical to that which currently surrounds the park in which it is located.
The terms of the agreement provide all of the terms and conditions previously identified herein. Furthermore, I have requested that Mr. Durand provide a “second set of eyes” and review the proposed agreement. He has concluded that the proposed accord is indeed favorable for the Parish.
REQUEST FOR TAX EXEMPTION BY LASUCA
I have received notification that Louisiana Sugar Cane Cooperative, Inc (“LASUCA”) has applied for another Industrial Ad Valorem Tax Exemption. The application was approved by the Board of Commerce and Industry of the Louisiana Board of Economic Development on January 14, 2022. The local ad valorem taxing entities in St. Martin Parish must now approve of the exemption before it becomes effective as to each entity. You will vote on the approval at your regular meeting on March 2, 2022. The failure to act on the request at this time will be deemed an approval. This item appears for discussion under Item Number 3 of your Administrative/Finance Committee Agenda.
With respect to this specific exemption request, I have secured various information from the Board of Commerce and Industry, SMEDA, and our Parish Assessor. Replicas of much of the materials have been provided to you in your agenda packet. All of the foregoing data is condensed for your easy reference as follows.
The exemption in question would apply to $637,976.00 for machinery and equipment only. The planned project does not embrace any building and materials. According to data compiled by the Assessor’s Office, over the life of the exemption (10 years), the total exemption would be $28,862 relative to Parish Government assessments. Since the exemption is at the rate of 80%, the Parish will collect a total of $7,216.00 in ad valorem taxes over that ten-year period. No new direct jobs will be created by the proposed project; however, the company would be obligated to maintain its current job census which is 116 jobs with an annual payroll of $7,671,336.00. The job maintenance requirement is set forth in a CEA executed between the company and the La. Department of Economic Development.
According to LASUCA’s ITEP application, this is the third phase of a major renovation project which commenced in 2019. Indeed, you have approved prior ITEP applications for Phases 1 and 2 of the total project in 2020 and 2021.
The specific equipment embraced by this project is the installation of two “juice heaters” with a combined heating surface of 10,000 square feet. This is in addition to the current 6 heaters which provide a heating surface of 20,000 square feet. Noteworthy is that the 6 current heaters provide the capacity to process approximately 12,500 tons of sugarcane per day. With the addition of the two heaters associated with this project, the processing capacity will be increased to 18,500 tons of sugarcane per day.
Finally, according to the data submitted by LASUCA, the addition of the heaters is necessary for the company to maximize its production capabilities which were substantially increased by the first two phases of the total project.
You will recall that on April 7, 2020, the Council adopted Resolution Number 20-024-RS which set forth guidelines for the consideration of requests for participation in the Louisiana Tax Exemption Program. These include:
o Whether the applicant has complied with all of the guidelines of the State Board of Commerce and Industry and Louisiana Department of Economic Development;
o Total Economic Impact of the business;
o The total number of jobs which the company provides;
o Whether the firm is locally owned;
o The “type” of jobs created; i.e., full-time, part-time, career oriented;
o Emoluments of jobs which the company offers;
o Whether the exemption would create an unfair advantage for the company or an unfair disadvantage for other locally owned business;
o Uniqueness of the product manufactured or distributed by company; and,
o The terms and conditions of the cooperative endeavor agreement between the applicant and the Louisiana Department of Economic Development.
I trust that the information set forth herein will be of benefit, and I will be happy to discuss this matter with you. Please note that I strongly advocate the vetting of each request for a tax exemption pursuant to all relevant factors as opposed to carte blanche approving or disapproving such requests. Each request should be evaluated against the criteria enunciated in Resolution No. 20-024-RS and any other data you deem relevant.
As an aside, the St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office has agreed to grant the exemption relative to its ad valorem taxes. The St. Martin Parish School Board, the only other taxing authority affected by this application, also approved the request.
PROGRESS ON PROJECTS
Many of our major projects are making significant progress. The following is a succinct update on recent developments:
Herman Dupuis Pontoon Bridge Replacement
At the time of your meeting on February 15, 2022, the old bridge will be closed and the disassembling of the structure underway. The project consists of the removal and replacement of the existing pontoon and timber bridge with a new concrete and steel swing span bridge. The existing bridge will be removed and disposed of by the contractor. The new bridge structure will be placed along the same alignment as the old bridge and will have fewer pile bents in the channel. The structure will be 24.5 feet wide and 275 feet long. The work will be done using cranes placed on barges. The bridge will be supported by 24-inch diameter P.P.C. driven piles and abutments located outside the channel. The preliminary budget for the project is approximately $8 million inclusive of engineering fees.
The contract for this project was signed on September 7, 2021, and the fabrication of the new structure commenced off-site. Onsite work was substantially delayed because of the ramp rehabilitation by DOTD at Exit 121 on Interstate 10. At long last, the ramp project was completed on January 31, 2022, and a Notice to Proceed for the onsite disassembling issued on February 10, 2022. The project is scheduled to be completed in February 2023.
There has been a great deal of interest expressed by the community in the preservation of the old structure and its relocation to another local area to serve as a historical marker. The control of the old bridge rests with the contractor; however, it is the preference of both the Parish and the contractor to disassemble the bridge and move it to another location in the area; however, it is unknown whether the delipidated condition of the structure will permit it to remain intact during its disassembling so as to permit its relocation. Nonetheless, on February 1, 2022, the contractor advised the Parish that:
“Our plan for now is to move it [the bridge] downstream and get to work. We can sort out the details as to where it needs to go once we get up and moving.”
Therefore, whatever can be salvaged for a historical marker will be preserved for its relocation.
On Friday, February 11, 2022, I met with representatives of the community organization known as the “Heart of the Atchafalaya.” Also attending the meeting was our Director of Public Works, our Project Manager, and Council member Byron Fuselier. Our discussion focused on the securing of a location for whatever portion of the bridge that can be salvaged. I will continue to work with this organization to ensure that all steps are adopted to preserve the structure. However, there still remains many obstacles to the preservation of the structure or any part of it, as well as a site for its relocation. There may be issues implicated by a relocation as regards regulatory permits and possible servitudes from private property owners.
Catahoula Lake Dredging
The advertisement for bids commenced on January 26, 2022. Bids will be received on February 23, 2022. A pre-bid conference was held on February 9, 2022, and eight potential bidders attended. According to Sellers & Associates, the engineers for the project, this is a positive sign that we may receive a significant number of favorable bids. The dredging should commence in May 2022, with the contract award anticipated for March, 2022.
The project consists of hydraulically dredging sediment accumulation in Catahoula Lake to a minus 8-foot elevation for approximately 800 feet and varying widths. The dredged materials will be pumped to the selected containment site consisting of approximately 30 acres of sugarcane fields. Post-construction drainage canals will be cut at approximately 100 feet intervals and will be sloped in a manner to allow proper drainage. Existing drainage ditches surrounding the spoil disposal areas will convey effluent back to the Lake.
Joe Daigre Drainage Project
Phase 1 of this project commenced on September 20, 2021 and is proceeding on schedule. Completion should be in December of this year barring any unforeseen issue with the project. The scope of this major undertaking addresses the improvement of 9.4 miles of the channel to increase its ability to convey storm water to Bayou Teche more efficiently during normal as well as larger intensity rainfall events.
Arnaudville Pavilion, Restore Act Project
As previously reported, the bids for this Project were over the amount approved by the U.S. Treasury Department. The bids were received on August 25, 2021. We executed a contract with the low bidder with the expressed understanding that construction would not commence until Treasury approved the award of the contract and approved the increase in the budgeted amount. The original budget was $270,000.00 and the low bid was $317,000.00.
On February 3, 2022, Treasury approved the amended budget. Therefore, the engineer for the project is in the process of issuing the Notice to Proceed for the commencement of the construction between February 21st and 28th. The contract sets a deadline for completion of 210 working days.
Bayou Benoit Landing-Restore Act
Bids for this project were received on October 13, 2022, and the contract awarded to the low bidder on December 1, 2021. As required by Treasury regulations, all bid and construction documents must be reviewed and approved before the Notice to Proceed can be issued. Those submissions have been transmitted, and we are currently awaiting receipt of Treasury’s approval which should be forthcoming in the next few weeks.
Road Improvements Project
A detailed report will be presented by our Director of Public Works under Item 1 of the Public Works Agenda. Note that 28 roads are now being improved by patching/milling and overlay, and/or reconstruction. It is anticipated that additional roads will be added via change order before the end of the contract period. The budget for the project is $3 million.
The foregoing is a recapitulation of those projects which are currently under construction or simply awaiting the final approval of a regulatory agency, such as Treasury, after confection/award of a contract. It does not include projects still in the planning/design stage such as Ponte Brule, Coulee LaSalle, and Bayou Estates. As regards Ponte Brule, in the next several days, I will be scheduling a conference with the engineer and our staff on the grant of servitudes for that Project which is the only issue to be addressed before submission of the final specifications for bidding.
At the current time, St. Martin Parish Government has under construction or is waiting for contract approval projects totaling $17,052,000. Moreover, one should not overlook the ARPA project(s) which the Parish has undertaken and/or the Cecilia Health Clinic project previously discussed in this report. Those total costs of those projects are over 4 million dollars.
Without intentionally engaging in any sort of patronization, I respectfully submit that St. Martin Parish Government has been extremely active in undertaking much needed major projects which will yield positive benefits for years. I do not believe that any rural Parish similarly situated can articulate a comparable commentary.
2022 COMMITTEE PRESENTATIONS
While on the subject of “projects”, I previously informed you that at each committee meeting, I would have a public works representative submit a presentation on one of our projects. This month, as set forth above, you will receive a report on our current Road Improvement Project. A preliminary schedule has been set and is as follows:
February 2022- Road Improvements
March 2022- Joe Daigre Canal, Phases 1 and 2
April 2022- Canal Spraying
May 2022- Pontoon Bridge
June 2022- Catahoula Lake Dredging
July 2022- Bayou Benoit and Arnaudville Pavilion
August 2022- Pont Brule
September 2022- Breaux Bridge Manor, Phase 2
October 2022- Coulee LaSalle
November 2022- 4-Mile Bayou Road and Bayou Estates
December 2022- Alcide Bonin Canal
This schedule is tentative and may change as circumstances may dictate. Nonetheless, each presentation will include up-to-date developments and prospective schedules. For projects which are under actual construction, photographs will be displayed. Each featured project presentation, where applicable, will include an outline of costs, benefits, funding sources, and other important aspects of the undertaking.
UPDATE ON WASTE DISPOSAL PROGRAM
It has been six weeks since the commencement of the Parish’s new Waste Disposal Program. I reported last month that the transition has been without significant issues, and the problems with collections, which were minimal, have been timely and efficiently addressed. Few complaints have been received by our office. Indeed, the overwhelming number of calls we have received address billings being received from the prior provider.
Nonetheless, I am constrained to remind you of these comments from my last report:
“One potentially critical matter which merit discussion is that approximately 30% of the households/residences identified by Waste Connections, and to whom bills were sent, have not paid. The billings were mailed on December 1, 2021. At a meeting with Waste Connections officials on Wednesday, January 12, 2022, this issue was discussed and at that time it was agreed that the problem was likely attributable to a combination of factors including mistaken addresses, issues with the postal service, a lag time between receipt of payment and a recordation thereof, and residents’ outright failure to pay. Inexplicably, there are numerous individuals who are adamant that they should not be compelled to pay for waste collection believing that this service is included “in their taxes.”
Data regarding the aforesaid ‘delinquencies’ is still being evaluated, and I suspect that the number will be reduced significantly. Late Friday afternoon I was informed that Waste Connections had identified an extremely large number of billings which has been returned by the postal service.”
The problem with “delinquencies” is being aggressively evaluated by Waste Connections, and many duplicate accounts and bills submitted to addresses where there are not residences continue to be identified and corrected. On February 18, 2022, I am scheduled to confer with Waste Connections to evaluate this situation.
The bottom line is that everything appears to be proceeding more smoothly than I anticipated.
LOUISIANA COMMISSION FOR JUSTICE SYSTEM FUNDING
I reported to you the following in December 2020:
“In 2019, the Louisiana Legislature established a commission to study the extent to which the criminal justice system relies upon financial obligations imposed upon persons who commit criminal offenses, and to develop recommendations that would permit the state to provide for a ‘system that is funded through means that provide stability and fairness.’ Essentially, the commission was formed to study alternative methods of funding the judicial system especially in view of the 2017 criminal justice reform legislation. By virtue of HCR 3 of the 2020 Legislature, the Commission was continued and its purpose specifically defined ‘…to continue to study financial obligations of criminal defendants and how those financial obligations are used to fund and subsidize core functions of the Louisiana court system, and to continue to study and determine optimal methods of supporting and funding the Louisiana court system in a way that would allow for the implementation of changes made in Act No. 260 of the 2017 Regular Session of the Legislature.’ Translated, what is obviously at play is the potential imposition of more UNFUNDED MANDATES on local governments.
HCR 3 expanded the membership of the commission to include a representative of local parish governing authorities. On behalf of Parish governing authorities, I was asked to accept the appointment to the Commission as that representative. I accepted. At an organizational/introductory meeting of the Commission last Thursday, the need for several subcommittees was discussed, and I have requested appointments to those subcommittees which I feel are especially important to local governmental interests.
All of you are aware of my objections to, and chagrin about, both the scope of unfunded mandates directed to local government and what I view to be unfair and constitutionally questionable legislative requirements that local government fund state established offices. Indeed, I have made presentations on this matter at PJAL and District Attorney conferences. I will keep all of you up to date on developments of the work of this extremely important commission which has more or less ‘flown under the radar.’”
Throughout the year, there were numerous meetings and research conducted and/or reviewed relative to the issues implicated by the charges imposed upon the Commission. The final report of the Commission was approved at a meeting in Baton Rouge on February 7, 2022. It is obvious to me that we can anticipate legislation in the upcoming and future sessions that will eliminate the collection and/or abolition of several sources of fines and forfeitures. As I clearly declared on many occasions, including publicly at the Commission’s meeting on February 7th, local government CANNOT AND SHOULD NOT LEGALLY be burdened with making up the lost revenues for the justice system resulting from any elimination of fines and forfeitures. Moreover, I officially opined that a reform of the entire court system in this state is in long overdue including the elimination of duplicate courts such as city and mayor courts in small jurisdictions, removal of the many statutory burdens imposed on district attorneys, and the consolidation of many court systems. For example, there are over 450 city and mayor courts in the state. A consolidation of these tribunals will save significant money and result in the transfer of revenue from fines and forfeitures to the criminal court funds and/or judicial expense funds on a parish wide basis. This clearly will ameliorate many budgetary deficits of the Article V constitutionally mandated entities such as district attorneys, judges, clerks of courts, and sheriffs. Of course, the elimination of such budget shortfalls will mean that local governing authorities will not have to supplement those deficits.
At the upcoming PJAL convention this March, I am scheduled to make a presentation at the General Session on the Commission’s work and the legislative developments of which Parish Governing authorities must be wary. The executive counsel for the PJAL and I will be conferring on February 16, 2022, to discuss this matter and to prepare the presentation. I invite all of you who will be at the PJAL convention to attend the presentation.
I have studied the tax collection reports for January 2022 and offer the following summary/evaluation:
A. Net Collections for Sales Tax District #1:
January 2022 Net Collections: $333,433.21
January 2021 Net Collections: $339,857.21
Average 2021 Monthly Collections: $309,495.52
Average 2020 Monthly Collections: $251,006.17
B. Collections for Sales Tax District #2:
January 2022 Net Collections: $147,535.47
January 2021 Net Collections: $114,704.37
Average 2021 Monthly Collections: $112,363.68
Average 2020 Monthly Collections: $95,507.00
As evident by the foregoing, the amounts collected in January 2022 in both districts exceed the average monthly collections in January 2021 and 2020. As regards Sales Tax District No. 1, the January 2022 monthly collections, however, is $6,424.00 less than what was collected in January 2021. In Sales Tax District #2, January 2022 collections were $32,831.10 GREATER than January 2021. Furthermore, the collections in January for both districts far exceeded the average monthly collections for both 2020 and 2021. Of course, it is difficult to draw any cogent conclusions from only one month of collection especially when one considers the impact of holiday spending during the relevant time frame. Nonetheless, the January collections reflects a continuing trend of increased sales tax collections which became quite pronounced during the last half of 2021.
The hotel/motel tax collections for January 2022 were $18,601.95 compared to 2021 January collections of $17,503.98. I am constrained to note that the average monthly collections for 2021 were $26,404.71. As I observed in my last report, I anticipate that our hotel/motel collections will increase significantly commencing in the Spring as we experience, hopefully, a return of fairs and festivals in our region. Furthermore, I again note that this tax is “seasonal” in nature, and hence a comparison of collections during specific “seasons” would be more valuable in determining the impact of events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the unfortunate issues presented by the decline in the oil and gas industry.
Video Poker revenue for January 2022 was $181,169.91. Last year, our collections in January were $154,273.14. You will recall that our 2021 total collections were 35.62% greater than 2020, and I am hopeful this trend will likewise continue.
Throughout the coming year, both our Director of Finance, Sean Hundley, and I will continue to closely scrutinize our revenue sources and keep you abreast of any and all developments.