Highlights from the Parish President’s Report of the St. Martin Parish Council Committee Meetings of November 15, 2022
STATUS OF BRIDGES
The 2022 DOTD bridge inspections have been completed. Of the forty-five (45) structures in the Parish System, only one bridge was deemed subject to closure, Zin Zin Road Bridge. Deficiencies were noted in two other bridges, Bayou Mercier Bridge and Division Road Bridge. The deficiencies noted in those bridges did not warrant closure and can be addressed by minor repairs and/or an adjustment in load limits, all without an impact on traffic or, more importantly, public safety.
As I succinctly commented at the Regular Council Meeting on November 1, 2022, the current situation with our bridges are as follows:
-Auguillard Road Bridge-Closed and subject to replacement via DOTD Off Bridge Program with a construction target date being the Fall of 2023;
-Ches Courville Road-Open but schedule for Off Bridge replacement in the Spring of 2023;
-Zin Zin Road-Closed and subject to Off Bridge replacement (no schedule);
-Bayou Mercier-Deficiencies noted and subject to Off Bridge replacement (no schedule); and
-Division Road-Deficiencies noted and subject to Off Bridge replacement (no schedule).
The sources of money upon which we can rely to addresses the issues with our bridges are threefold:
-Off Bridge System Program of DOTD; and
-The Federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (“IIJA”).
The IIJA allotment for bridges is being administered through DOTD. Under the guidelines and federal grading criteria, DOTD has identified several bridges in St. Martin Parish which qualify for replacement through the IIJA. Those structures and their respective replacement costs are:
-Zin Zin Road estimated to cost $1.6 million;
-Bayou Mercier estimated to cost $3.6 million;
-Boon Lasseigne Road estimated to cost $1.3 million;
-Auguillard Road estimated to cost $1 million;
-Huval Street estimated to cost $1 million; and
-Herman Dupuis Road being constructed at a cost in excess of $7.4 million.
Of course, the Herman Dupuis Road Bridge is being replaced currently via our leverage of GOMESA funds. Thus, this structure does not figure into any repair or replacement equation.
The IIJA allotment for the Parish is only $4.5 million. Also, this program is solely for bridge REPLACEMENT. Consequently, the selection of just one bridge with a high replacement construction cost, such as Bayou Mercier, would limit the number of bridges we can address through the IIJA. Of course, IIJA reflects a “one-time” grant.
It is critical to note that the IIJA is a separate and distinct program from the Off System Program, and the funds are in different tranches. Hence, if a bridge is already programed in the Off System Program, it will not be affected by virtue of its “qualifying” for IJJA funding; that is, the bridge can still be replaced via IIJA funds. Excellent example are the Auguillard and Bayou Mercier structures.
The benefit of IIJA is that it is funded at 100% with no match required. Furthermore, the grant covers the cost of all services associated with bridge replacement inclusive of environmental, surveying, design, construction, and construction support. The disadvantage with IIJA is that, as with the Off Bridge System, the process is time consuming, and given the program’s infancy, any actual replacement may take years.
The Off Bridge System is likewise a time-consuming process; however, most consultants concur that the time frame will likely be much less than with IIJA. Additionally, IIJA is a “one time grant” whereas the Off Bridge System is recurring.
My discourse with our engineers reflects that the most prudent course of action at this point is to rely upon the Off Bridge System for the Auguillard and Bayou Mercier bridges. Since Ches Courville will be replaced through that program, we can leave the plans associated therewith undisturbed. Meanwhile, we can proceed with repairs to Zin Zin Road now using our budgeted funds. Bids for the repairs are below the threshold for formal bidding and fall within our bridge repair budget of $350,000. Similarly, we can use local funds to repair Bayou Mercier Bridge after an evaluation to determine the level of repairs necessary to satisfy structural and safety concerns for several years. Bayou Mercier can remain on the IIJA list and Off Bridge System for replacement. Note again that the cost to replace Bayou Mercier will be substantial. Without the cost to replace Bayou Mercier being considered, the remaining bridges on the IIJA list can be addressed for replacement or perhaps repairs as warranted by our engineer’s inspection.
Note that foregoing analysis is preliminary only except for the plan to repair the Zin Zin Road Bridge immediately.
FEMA HOME ELEVATION PROGRAM
As I informed you in my last report, the Parish is again assisting and sponsoring the Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program for home elevations for those structures which have experienced repetitive flooding. As a segue to my message in this report, I provide you with my statements from last month:
“I have previously apprised you that on October 5, 6, and 7, the Parish sponsored outreach meetings to explain and solicit applications for the Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program relative to the home elevation program. These meetings were preceded by the mailing of information regarding the program to every qualified property owner in St. Martin Parish who FEMA had identified as being eligible for the program. The outreach meetings were held on:
-October 5, 2022, as 6:00 P.M. at the Council Chambers;
-October 6, 2022, at 6:00 P.M. at the Cecilia Civic Center; and
-October 7, 2022, from 10:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. at the Belle River Community Center.
At each meeting, both Callen Huval and I were present together with representatives from C.H. Fenstermaker and Associates, the grant program administrator, specifically: Gary O’Neal, Tonia Bergeron, and Willie Washington.
After the meetings, Fenstemaker sent the following e-mail to all persons who attended any of the foregoing sessions or who otherwise contacted the firm expressing an interest in applying for assistance:
‘On behalf of the Parish of St. Martin, we would like to thank each of you for attending the meetings this past week that provided information about the Parish’s grant application for funding through FEMA’s Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) Program for 2022. For those who were unable to attend, this e-mail provides information that was included in the homeowner packets handed out at the meeting, along with deadline-related information and next-steps for anyone who would like to apply to participate in this year’s grant application for the Parish.
When you have completed your paperwork and have obtained the necessary information including the three price quotes, please scan and e-mail the information to [email protected] The Parish of St. Martin will also accept drop-offs of this paperwork at the following address.
301 West Port Street
St. Martinville, Louisiana 70582
You may also drop this paperwork off at the offices of C.H. Fenstermaker & Associates, LLC, at:
135 Regency Square
Lafayette, Louisiana 70508
If you have questions, please contact Willie, Tonia or Gary at (225) 344-6701, or through the e-mail address listed above. Our Grants Management staff is here to walk you through this process.’
I am pleased with the efforts which were adopted to solicit applications, and I am hopeful that many of our residents will received the much-needed and richly deserved assistance. Of course, I will keep you advised of all developments. The awards will be announced next May or June.”
Just recently, we learned that several homeowners who submitted applications for last year’s program, and were denied, HAVE BEEN AWARDED the elevation grant which will be funded at 100%. Apparently, there were substantial sums of money allotted to our Parish associated with Hurricane Delta relief which was not utilized. Hence, FEMA appropriated that money for the home elevation award for this year. Nine of our residents were awarded the grant. This is indeed great news and hopefully will be a depiction of what we can expect in the future. Note that the recent awards are do not affect the current pending applications recently submitted and which will be considered for 2023.
As far as those who received this award, updated construction costs are being calculated and verification of continued flood insurance secured. After these tasks are completed, the final GOHSEP and FEMA review will transpire. Hopefully, the elevation tasks can commence early next fall.
Meanwhile, we will eagerly await the announcement of awards for this years’ applicants. I remain cautiously optimistic.
REASSIGNMENT OF COMPLIANCE OFFICER
I have reassigned the duties of our compliance officer. Previously, he was scheduled to perform Section 8 housing inspections two (2) days per month. The remainder of the week was consumed with obtaining servitudes (rights of way), addressing nuisance complaints, and investigating zoning issues. It became evident that with a better structuring of time by Section 8 employees, there would no need for any regular Section 8 inspections by the compliance officer. Therefore, the compliance officer could more efficiently and effectively address nuisance and zoning matters AND obtain needed servitudes.
Furthermore, I simplified the format for servitudes which will make it less onerous for the officer to secure the necessary signatures for a servitude. Likewise, under newly revised administrative protocol, if the compliance officer encounters obstacles with obtaining servitude grants, the Director of Public Works will be advised, and remedial steps adopted inclusive of seeking assistance from me or council members.
MANDATORY TRAINING IN ETHICS AND SEXUAL HARASSMENT
All public employees and elected officials in Louisiana are required to receive one hour of ethics training per year. Moreover, La. R.S. 42:341, et seq, which was enacted in the 2018, similarly mandates one hour of sexual harassment training annually for public employees and elected officials. I have scheduled for all St. Martin Parish Government employees live presentations on both topics for Thursday, December 15, 2022. The program will be in two separate sessions: 8:00 A.M.to11:00 A.M., and from 12:30 P.M. to 3:30 P.M. The training will be at the Cecilia Civic Center.
The presenter will be Jennie Pellegrin with the law firm of NeunerPate. She will be assisted by other members of the firm at both sessions. Ms. Pellegrin is well versed in these areas, and she will focus on pragmatic situations with which our staff and employees are frequently confronted. It is my entrenched position that live presentations are more effective and educational than the online courses which we used to sponsor. Moreover, personal interaction among presenters and the audience is particularly energetic and trenchant.
Of course, Council members are invited to attend. If you elect to do so, please contact my office so that we can make the necessary arrangements.
Finally, the firm has agreed to present the training at no charge.
ACADIANA CRIME LAB BUDGET
Item 1 of the Administrative/Finance Committee agenda is a discussion/approval of the 2023 Acadiana Crime Lab budget. The Crime lab serves an eight-parish region in Acadiana and is governed by a Commission consisting of representatives from the eight parishes including the chief executive of each parish’s governing authority. Moreover, I have the honor of having been selected to serve on the Commission’s executive committee, and last year was elected as the President of the Commission.
On November 10, 2022, the Commission reviewed the budgets for FY 2023 and by unanimously vote adopted it. Therefore, at your December meeting, you will be asked to approve of the FY 2023 budget. The budget/fiscal year for the Crime Lab is the calendar year. Of course, I will be happy to answer any questions you may have regarding this matter.
HEALTH UNIT CONSOLIDATION/RELOCATION OF TOURISM OFFICE
In 2020, I realized that there was no valid reason to continue the operation of two separate health units, one in Breaux Bridge and one in Cecilia. Indeed, I refer you to my report from January 2021, wherein I stated:
“Since the first of the year, there have been several personnel changes within Parish Government. We have reduced the number of employees at our water plant and as alluded to previously, replaced the Planning and Zoning Coordinator. Additionally, I have closely studied our health units and determined that we are over-staffed. Thus, one LPN position was eliminated. Also, there does not appear to be a cogent reason to continue to have a health unit in both Breaux Bridge and Cecilia. Currently, both are not open at the same time. Furthermore, the is a community clinic at St. Martin Hospital which will soon feature a pediatric nurse practitioner. Thus, I am developing a plan whereby we will close one of the facilities in the next several months which I am convinced will be save costs without compromise to services.”
My plans were thwarted by the myriad of issues which were presented by the COVID-19 Pandemic. I am now proceeding, however, with that original plan with the following modifications.
The Parish Tourism Department is currently operating from the premises of a former “beauty salon” in Breaux Bridge. The Tourism Department shares those premises with the St. Martin Economic Development Authority. Indeed, both of these governmental units work jointly on many endeavors. These lease for the premises is the object of Item 2 of the Agenda for the Administrative/Finance Committee Meeting.
It should be noted that the building is much too small and is poorly configured to accommodate the needs of either Tourism or SMEDA, much less both of them. Hence, my plan is to close the Breaux Bridge Health Unit and relocate all services to the Cecilia site. Then, the Department of Tourism will relocate to the vacated Breaux Bridge Health Unit which is situated at the intersection of La. 347 (Poydras Street) and Bridge Street in Breaux Bridge. In this connection, on Monday, November 7, 2022, our Tourism Director, SMEDA Director, and I toured the building with an architect, and it was determined that, with modest renovation efforts, the premises could serve as an excellent venue for both SMEDA and Tourism. A “floor plan” is being developed for our review.
Meanwhile, I am studying the wisdom of moving the Cecilia Health Unit from its current location to the building at Paul Angelle Park which we had considered for a rural health clinic. Since the esoteric renovation of that facility into a rural clinic was cost prohibitive, it appears that it can be structured to accommodate our health unit AND a wellness facility with aerobic exercise equipment. This would blend well with the use of the walking track at the Park. The Director of our Health Unit embraced this idea during a meeting on November 3, 2022.
I will keep you informed as we progress with these plans.
RATE ADJUSTMENT FOR WASTE COLLECTIONS
As I alluded to at the October Committee meetings, the waste disposal contract with Waste Connections calls for a rate adjustment based upon the monthly retail price indices at the time of the contract. On Thursday afternoon, I received notification from Waste Connections that the rates for 2023 will be approximately 8% greater. The increase is driven mostly by the significant increase in fuel costs, particularly diesel. I note that the cost of diesel has increased 40% over the last year. Noteworthy is that even which such an increase, Waste Connections’ adjusted rates will still be lower than the other responsive respondents to the RFP’s for waste disposal services which were received last year.
I will confirm the computation and validity of the formula utilized by Waste Connections, hopefully before the meeting this Tuesday. Thereafter, we will publish notice of the increases before the January-March, 2023 billings are mailed so that the public is aware. Unlike the CPI increase imposed by our previous provider, there will be advanced notice of the rate adjustment, and, more importantly, it will not be retroactive.
[SUBSEQUENT TO PREPARATION OF THIS REPORT THE ADJUSTMENT WAS CONFIRMED. THE MONTHLY CHARGE FOR SERVICES IN UPPER ST. MARTIN PARISH WILL BE $25.01 AND THE COST FOR THE SOUTHERN PORTION OF THE PARISH WILL BE $26.06]
ROAD PROJECTS FOR ROAD DISTRICT NO. 2
Item 3 of the Agenda for the Public Works meeting is a report on the improvements to several roads in ROAD DISTRICT 1, and the capital outlay project for the Spanish Trail Access Road. I felt that a particular presentation on these projects was important so that the general public could develop and cultivate an understanding that Road District 2 is a special taxing district, and the funds generated by that millage can only be used for roads in that district. Of course, the millage is levied solely within the limited boundaries of that district. Particularly, though not exclusively, I was concerned about questions surfacing because of the cost of those projects as contrasted which what is budgeted for other road projects outside the boundaries of Road District 2. As such, the fund balance for Road District 2 is substantial, and our auditor has on more than one occasion recommended that the balance be reduced substantially. Of course, these Road District 2 expenditures are a valid use of resources since the roads in question are highly trafficked by both residential and industrial purposes. Indeed, the Spanish Trail project will service the newly opened PPE plant.
DISCUSSION REGARDING JUDICIAL EXPENSES
Item 4 of the Agenda for the Administrative/Finance Committee meeting calls for a brief discussion regarding increases in the expenses Parish Government is mandated to pay relative to the operation of the judicial system. Embraced by the term “judicial system” are offices such as, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, the sheriff’s office (including the parish jail), district attorney, judges, clerk of court, and coroner, as well as juvenile detention costs. In the last few months, the Parish has been compelled to absorb unexpected, and thus unbudgeted, expenditures which include but are not limited to:
-$20,505.03 over the last three months to house prisoners at a facility in north Louisiana because of a lack of space in the Parish jail;
-$22,550.53 for hospital security expenses associated with parish inmates who are hospitalized;
-Numerous fees for mental evaluations of inmates who have alleged an “incapacity” to stand trial;
-$63,976.00 for juvenile detention.
Furthermore, as required by law, the Parish is compelled by law to provide furnishing for the Sheriff’s new facility being constructed next to the Public Safety Complex. This will cost $265,168.09. The Sheriff has worked with us in meeting this budgetary obligation. In addition to what we are funding the District Attorney operating expenses, we have been asked to absorb an additional $206,670.08 for 2023, for a total of $738,670.00.
Last month, I informed you of the significant increase in the expenses associated with the coroner’s office. As I noted, both the number of autopsies which must be performed has increased, but also the cost for an autopsy is expected to double.
To add salt to the “wounds”, it is my understanding that St. Martin Parish will only have 10 criminal jury weeks in 2023, as opposed to 12 jury weeks which have traditionally been scheduled, and which the other two parishes in the 16th Judicial District will have. I am particularly concerned that the ability of the justice system to process the cases of those incarcerated will be further compromised, thus resulting in more inmates and hence more transfers to other facilities AT THE EXPENSE OF PARISH GOVERNMENT.
I have expressed my chagrin many times about the numerous obligations imposed on Parish Government to fund agencies created by the State of Louisiana. As many of you are aware, I have spoken at several conferences on this issue of unfunded mandates which are imposed upon local governing authorities. It seems that my lamentations have fallen upon deaf ears. Furthermore, I am not certain that the general public appreciates or understands the burden placed upon the Parish. Indeed, our source of general revenue by which we fund these responsibilities is limited-most of our tax base is composed of dedicated tax sources.
As background information, I quote from my last month’s remarks:
“JUVENILE DETENTION COSTS
As a prelude to an update on the severe problems presented by the marked increase in juvenile offenses, I remind you of these observations from last month’s report:
‘In 2021, the Louisiana Legislature enacted legislation which raised the age for juvenile offenders from seventeen years to eighteen years. Thus, any offender below the age of eighteen years at the time of the commission of a criminal offense must be handled through the juvenile courts. Prior to this time, the bench mark for juvenile offenses was seventeen years. Also noteworthy is that juvenile offenders cannot be incarcerated in a parish jail; thus, if ordered detained, the offender must be housed in a juvenile detention facility.
This “raise the age” legislation, coupled with an unexplainable rise in juvenile offenses, have resulted in an increase in juvenile detentions. Unfortunately, there are few pre-adjudicative juvenile facilities in the State of Louisiana. Consequently, juveniles must be housed out of state at significant costs.
These issues are not problematical for just large communities. Major offenses involving juveniles who must be detained both before and after adjudication is a problem in St. Martin Parish and numerous other jurisdictions. Indeed, there are at least four St. Martin Parish juveniles who are currently being detained in out of state facilities. The costs range from $200 to $400 dollars per day. That expense does not include the transportation costs incurred to transport the juvenile to St. Martin Parish for court proceedings.
I am not convinced that the pre-adjudicative expenses are the sole responsibility of Parish Government. I have reached out to Guy Cormier, the Executive Director for the PJAL on this issue, and his staff will be researching this matter. Additionally, on August 17, 2022, at the request of Mr. Cormier, I attended a meeting of district attorneys, juvenile judges, and sheriffs from throughout the state to discuss these issues. Although we identified common problems, there was no consensus on a viable resolution.’
The in-house counsel for the PJAL has rendered a lengthy reply to my request for an opinion regarding the responsibility for expenses associated with the pre-adjudicative detention of Juvenile offenders. Her conclusions support my prior supposition that Parish Government is not necessarily responsible for the detention expenses of every juvenile offender who commits a criminal act in the Parish. Therefore, I reviewed our expenditures for the last two years and note the following which is emblematic of, and crystallizes, the major burdens which local governing authorities are now facing because of increased juvenile crime.
In 2021, St. Martin Parish Government paid $9,500.00 for juvenile detentions. As of October 1, 2022, our expenses for the current year totals $63,976.00. As I prepare this report, there are currently two juveniles for which we are paying detention costs. One is housed at the Lafayette Parish Juvenile Detention Center. That facility charges $250.00 per day. The second juvenile is at Ware Youth Center in Coushatta, Louisiana, for which we are paying $145.00 per day. My understanding is that both are being detained on homicide charges.
The availability of juvenile detention facilities is limited especially for pre-adjudication purposes. During this year, parish juvenile offenders have been located at various centers inclusive of:
-Lafayette Parish Juvenile Detention Center-Rate $250 per day;
-Southeast Alabama Youth Services in Dothan, Alabama at $226 per day;
-Jones County Juvenile Detention Center in Ellisville, Ms. at $205 per day; and
-Adams County Juvenile Detention Center in Natchez, Ms. at $170 per day.
On October 28, 2022, I am schedule to attend a regional meeting to further explore all of the concerns engendered by this problem. Candidly, I do not see any short term solution to either the increase in juvenile crime or the pre-adjudicative detention expenses.
The scope of Parish Government’s many state-mandated financial responsivities embrace the funding of the Coroner’s Office for St. Martin Parish. Indeed, I refer you to Fund No. 221 of our budget. Over the last several years, the coroner has experienced significant increases in the number of commitment orders. A summary of those commitments handled by our coroner’s office reflects a total of 319 in 2020, and 330 in 2021. Commitments issues by other jurisdictions for St. Martin Parish residents (for which the Parish is frequently financially responsible) are 559 and 571, respectively. The cost of the bulk of those commitments’ rests with Parish Government. Although final numbers are not yet available for 2022, it is anticipated that they will be in excess of those for 2020 and 2021.
More disconcerting is the rise in those cases where the coroner must order an autopsy. Under Louisiana law, a coroner must secure an autopsy in any case involving the death of an infant under the age of one year and in all deaths which occur in connection with the commission of a suspected crime. The number of autopsies have increase substantially. Specifically, the number of autopsies which have been necessitated are:
-As of October 1, 2022: 24
An autopsy must be performed by a forensic pathologist; hence, autopsies are contracted to third party pathologists. The general, though not exclusive, purpose or objective of an autopsy is to determine the cause of death, the manner of death, and the retrieval of foreign objects for the decedent.
The cost of a “full scale” autopsy is currently $1,875.00. Unfortunately, I was recently advised by our Parish Coroner that in the near future, the cost for such an autopsy will likely double. The reasons for the increase include the fact that the number of cases for which autopsies are legally required have risen commensurate with the increase in major offenses, and the fact there is a NATIONAL shortage of forensic pathologists.
As our current, past, and proposed budgets reflect, the amounts expended each year for commitments and autopsies approximates $200,000.00 annually. Factors such as increased drug use, he rising crime rate, and the increased costs of autopsies will likely cause the foregoing expenses to more than double next year.
I will be contacting local law enforcement, the District Attorney, and our Coroner to discuss this very pressing matter at a joint meeting. There are alternatives available relative to the extent of an autopsy which much be performed without compromise to the objectives of, and basis for, autopsies. Moreover, all of the stakeholders should be made acutely aware of the financial burden imposed upon local government as a product of carte blanche performing full autopsies when a lesser scale of one will suffice, the full impact of uncontrolled use of controlled dangerous substances, and the rising crime rates have a negative effect on public safety and the financial posture of local government.
I have discussed these concerns/issues with Guy Cormier, the Executive Director of the PJAL, and hopefully this matter will be a topic discussed at next year’s conference. Clearly, a collaborative effort is warranted to address all of the foregoing.
I would be remiss if I did not note that the St. Martin Parish Coroner contacted me to warn of the proposed escalation in the cost of operating his office. Also, each year he provides me with up-to-date statistics and reports associated with the day to day affairs of his Office. I appreciate his prompt attention to this situation. We are indeed fortunate to have someone serving as our Coroner who is as diligent, dedicated, and insightful as Dr. Degeyter.”
The October report for Parish’s tax collections reflects another positive scenario. To aid in the evaluation of these tax collections, I offer the following comparative summary:
A. Net Collections for Sales Tax District #1:
January-October 2022 Net Collections: $3,472,981.03
January-October 2021 Net Collections: $3,103,998.01
January-October 2020 Net Collections: $2,499,245.80
Average 2022 10-month Net Collections: $347,298.10
Average 2021 10-month Net Collections: $310,399.80
Average 2020 10-month Net Collections: $249,924.58
B. Net Collections for Sales Tax District #2:
January-October 2022 Net Collections: $1,532,689.00
January-October 2021 Net Collections: $1,081,497.66
January-October 2020 Net Collections: $974,381.29
Average 2022 10-month Net Collections: $153,268.90
Average 2021 10-month Net Collections: $108,149.76
Average 2020 10-month Net Collections: $97,438.12
The foregoing reflects that the average net amounts collected in January-October 2022 in both districts exceed the average monthly net collections in both 2021 and 2020 for that ten-month time period. As regards Sales Tax District No. 1, the January-October 2022 AVERAGE monthly collections are $36,893.30 GREATER than the monthly average collected in January-October 2021. In Sales Tax District #2, the January-October 2022 average monthly collections were $45,119.14 GREATER than the average of the collections for January-October 2021.
The October 2022 net collections for District No. 1 totaled $362,009.02 while the October net collections for 2021 and 2020 were, respectively, $341,557.18 and $282,580.16. Although the October collections in Sales Tax District 1 were less that August and September, the were nonetheless the highest for the rest of the year, and greater that the collections for the month of October for the last decade.
In Sales Tax District No. 2, the October 2022 net collections were $184,324.80 contrasted to October net collections of $144,426.58 and $92,915.28 in 2021 and 2020 respectively. The last three monthly collections, combined, are the largest monthly collections in District No. 2 since January 2015. As I have stated on prior occasions, I contend that an analysis of tax receipts simply on a per month comparative basis can be misleading while yearly comparisons offer a better picture of the strength of sale tax collections. As noted in the above comparative summaries and as evidenced from the following contrasts in collections, our sales tax receipts continue on an upward trend.
In connection with the foregoing, I have again examined and compared the average of the first ten months of collections for 2022 with the average monthly collections for the entire 12 months in 2021 and 2020. This comparative analysis reflects for Sales Tax District #1:
2022 Average 10-month Collections: $347,298.10
2021 Average 12-month Collections: $309,495.52
2020 Average 12-month Collections: $252,006.17
As regards, Sales Tax District #2, the comparison is:
2022 Average 10-month Collections: $153,268.90
2021 Average 12-month Collections: $112,363.68
2020 Average 12-month Collections: $95,507.00
I am looking forward to receiving the sales tax data for the two months of this year. At that time, I will compare the percentage of increase with the estimated inflation rate in an attempt to determine if the increases are due to more transactions as opposed to an increase simply because of higher prices.
The hotel/motel tax collections for January-October 2022 were $253,939.13 compared to 2021 collections of $237,638.81 during those ten months. The January-October collections were $16,300.32 greater that the first ten months in 2021. Noteworthy is that the average monthly collections for all of 2021 were $26,404.71 while the average collection thus far this year is slightly less at $25,393.91.
Video Poker revenue for January-October 2022 was $1,792,365.03. Last year, our collections in that time frame were $1,660,122.40. Furthermore, I remind you of my statement in my August report to the effect that, “…the total collections for all of 2021 were $2,063,827.88, and for all of 2020 the collections were $1,524,015.01. Therefore, we have already surpassed the 2020 video poker collections. It appears that this gaming revenue continues on an upward trend which impels me to again note that our 2021 total collections were 35.62% greater than 2020.” I again further note that the last quarter will paint a more accurate picture of this revenue source and a more accurate depiction of the effect of Senate Bill 16 upon which I have previously commented.
The Off Track Betting (“OTB”) revenue continues to below that of previous years. For October we collected only $9,515.00 which compares to $12,021 in October of 2021. Our OTB revenue thus far this year has been $94,250, while the collection for the identical time frame in 2021 was $116,854. This is a reduction of 19.34%. Since all other revenue sources, including video poker revenue, has not decreased, I am constrained to repeat my admonitions about whether the Historical Horse Racing machines now allowed at OTB’s are having a negative impact on OTB revenue. Note once more my remarks from my September report on this issue:
“In the 2021 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature, Act Number 437 was enacted which legalizes historical horse racing machines for off-track betting (OTB) parlors. Historical racing machines (HHR) look and operate much like slot machines; however, in lieu of randomizing the outcome of a play, the HHR’s determine winners based on previously run races. On an HHR, one bets on the outcome of horse races just like he would at any Off-Track Betting Parlor or a horse racing track. The difference is that on an HHR, the betting is on actual past races, and when a bet is made, a race is randomly selected from a pool of nearly 100,000 prior races. Obviously, no identifying information, such as when and where the race took place and which horses and jockeys participated, is revealed. The machines are for all intents and purposes “slot machines.”
Recently, at least one local video poker operator has complained about the impact of these “slot machines” on video poker outlets. Noteworthy, is that there is a fear that those interested in gaming will opt to use the HHR’s devices to the exclusion of playing video poker machines. Of interest to local government is the fact that the HHR’s do not generate taxes for local government.
Louisiana has 17 off-track betting facilities which can offer these devices under Act 437. Also, the legislation provides that no facility may house more than fifty of the machines. Other key details of Act 437 are:
-Authorizes HHR’s on the premises of off-track wagering facilities only via dedicated machines or personal mobile devices.
-Limits each primary licensee or licensed off-track betting facility to no more than 50 machines.
-Instructs the Louisiana State Racing Commission to promulgate rules for and license historical horse racing.
-Limits the HHR commissions to 12% of all wagers.
-Requires the licensee to disburse 20% of HHR revenue to horsemen’s purses.
While the state does not tax the HHR revenue, it is supposedly expected that the HHR will boost the horse racing activities, thus providing additional state revenue.
It is my understanding that West Baton Rouge Parish and Jefferson Parish have both enacted ordinances to limit the number of such machines in their respective jurisdictions. I am not privy to any of those ordinances, and frankly, I question whether a local jurisdiction can impose restrictions which are greater that what the state has imposed on such gaming activity. Also, I have not been provided any sort of empirical data which addresses the impact of HHR’s on video poker revenue or whether such devices impact the number of persons who play the video poker machines. Consequently, if you would like to proceed to address the possibility of any regulation of HHR’s, I suggest that you proceed with great caution. I have discussed this matter with the Executive Director of the PJAL who advises that the association’s legal staff is evaluating the concerns expressed by the video poker industry and may soon disseminate information for the guidance of local governments.
Finally, I note that the horse racing industry strongly endorsed this legislation which passed the House by a 84-11 vote and was carried in the Senate by an 33-3 vote.”
As I stated last month, we will monitor this issue in an effort to determine the financial impact, if any, of the HHR devices.