Parish sees dip in sales taxes

Aaron E. Looney

Ascension Parish’s treasuer and chief financial officer told the Parish Council’s Finance Committee Thursday that sales tax collections saw a decline in the month of October, the first such drop of the year.

Gwen LeBlanc said that the October collections, which are based on September sales, show a possible flattening or dropoff of revenue totals through the end of the year. This comes after previous montly totals came in around 15 percent higher than those of last year’s record totals.

According to LeBlanc’s report, the parish’s 1-cent sales tax in District No. 1 came in .13 percent higher than last year’s collection and the half-cent sales tax collected by District No. 2 was higher by .55 percent.

The figures show that only collections for the half-cent sales tax for East Ascension Drainage came in at higher than 1 percent of last year’s totals,  which were 2.48 percent above those in 2007.

Councilman Chris Loar, who chairs the committee, said he found the totals “alarming” and cited recent economic issues as the cause for the decreases in revenues.

Parish President Tommy Martinez said his administration is looking at ways to cut costs, adding that he has notices the apparent flattening of sales tax revenues and is “trying to be proactive” by finding ways to enhance revenues.

In other news, Lamar-Dixon Expo Center general manager Eddie Crawford told the committee that revenues were higher in September, in large part from hurricane relief efforts stationed at the complex.

Crawford also said that all events scheduled through June 2009 at the center will take place. Center co-owner Mary Lee Dixon announced last week that the facility will close at that time, which also marks the end of the parish’s current lease-purchase agreement for the center.

Voters defeated a 20-year, 3-mill property tax issue placed on the ballot earlier this month by parish government that would have gone toward purchasing and upgrading the facility.

Martinez also said that the parish would honor all contracts for events at the center through that time.

“We can’t put ourselves in jeopardy,” Martinez said.

The committee also requested a report from Crawford that would show the financial impact shutting down the center would have on the parish.

Martinez said that initial figures show that the parish would lose around $22 million when the center closes.

The committee also agreed to again budget $25,000 for the Donaldsonville Downtown Development District. The total matches comtributions by the city and state.

John Rodgers, executive director for the district, told the committee that Phase I of the development project - which includes constructing a walking path along the top of the Mississippi River levee through the city along with other amenities - would be completed next August.