NEWS

Ascension tax revenue could fall in 2009

Wade McIntyre

Ascension Parish Finance Committee members received good and maybe not so good news at the regular meeting Thursday.

While sales tax revenue continued an upward pattern in 2008, the biggest upward tick in collections was due to retail business created by Hurricane Gustav’s hit to the parish.

Factor in a 12.9 percent drop in 2007 sales of motor vehicles from $2,117,538 to $1,845,073 in 2008 and a 27.6 percent drop in business to business sales from $1,351,869 to $978,846, and parish officials are now expressing concern that 2009 will be a year of tax collection decline.

Overall sales and use tax collections in 2008 totaled $107,004,792 compared with $94,071,632 in 2007.

Chief Finance Officer Gwen LeBlanc said the parish also benefited in 2008 from a 33 percent increase in tax collections from the petrochemical industry due to tax audits that increased collections from $6,243,263 in 2007 to $8,310,101 in 2008.

In another matter, Chief Administrative Officer Cedric Grant told members that parish auditors have suggested that Ascension move to a multi-year budget forecasting system. It would be based on population projections, the President’s council of economic advisory projections and other data points, he said.

The parish would work with other tax districts such as the Sheriff’s Office, the School Board, the municipalities of Gonzales, Donaldsonville and Sorrento to map out collection scenarios that it could use to build tax collection projections.

Devising a plan is not an exact science but gauging the various tax collecting entities would help provide the best possible analysis the parish could have, he said.

“I think it has a lot of value here for where we’re going and particularly in growth,” he said.

Committee Chairman Chris Loar agreed, saying that a revenue estimation roadmap would be similar to the way state projects its collections.

In other business, the committee agreed to a an increase in a number of building related fees for the first time since 1984.

Chief Building Officer Laverne Bourgeois said the fees for building a 1,650 square foot house would increase from 12 to 15 percent.