Parish financial record looks promising

Gina Zanutto

During the June 2 Ascension Parish Council meeting, local financial professionals detailed the 2010 audit for Ascension Parish and explained why they believe the region is prospering.

“This past year was a very good performance,” said Tommy Lejeune, CFO at Faulk and Winkler, LLC. “This is the best financial position I’ve seen the parish in since 2004. We have a good network of positions, resources and competitive taxes, and our funds balance.”

Lejeune illustrated via a chart-and-graph presentation that assets in the parish have experienced “flat growth.” Although cash assets went down from $135 million to $133 million, property and other less liquid investments greatly increased.

“Cash is down, but property is up,” Lejeune said. “This is good for a growing community.”

Overall in 2010, the parish decreased debt by $3 million. The total revenue of the parish is about $75 million, $52 million of which is a result of local taxes.

“Debt went down, and the net worth of the parish went up,” Lejeune said. “From a financial perspective, this is a very good sign, and it has been the case for the past several years.”

Parish expenditures increased overall by $5 million. The first component of expenditures, operational costs, decreased by $4 million. However, capital projects increased from the previous year by nearly $9 million. A portion of this included the road program.

“The road program has cost about $10 million over the past two years,” Lejeune said. “This is the day-to-day maintenance as well as the expansion and construction in our area.”

Sales tax revenue experienced a relative standstill to the 2009 numbers, remaining at roughly $32 million. This revenue is spent largely on roadways, recreation projects and parish utilities.

After presenting these details to the federal government in an internal control report, Lejeune, his group and the parish were “compliant” and received only minor recommendations for their financial procedures.

“There were no significant deficiencies in our audit,” Lejeune said. “We credit a sense of integrity.”

Each year, the parish submits the report to the Government Finance Officers Association, an organization which monitors the financial status of various areas to promote professional ethics in government and monetary management. This body issues a “Certificate of Excellence” to fewer than 4,000 governments each year, several of which have been bestowed on the parish. Lejeune anticipates receiving this award yet again for 2010.

Many of the council personally thanked Faulk and Winkler, LLC, including Councilman Thompson who stated that the finance department helps the parish “get better and better every year.”

“We are paying off our debt, and we have implemented a conservative budget,” Councilman Loar said. “We are still excelling, we weren’t hit as hard by the recession, but there are still a ton of things to do to be good financial stewards.”

Councilman Schexnaydre warned “not to trivialize these results,” reminding everyone in attendance that the council and the financial department “have gone a long way to bring this parish to where it is today.”

In addition to explaining the 2010 financial record for the parish, the council also approved several laws, contracts and other motions. Firstly, the Gonzales Weekly Citizen became the official paper of Ascension Parish via a contract which approved the bid of six dollars per legal square. Next, a contract between the parish and engineering group Forte and Tablada, Inc. was extended until December 31, 2011. Church United for Community Development also received the 2010-2012 Emergency Shelter Grant of $28 thousand.

St. Joseph School was removed from the National Register of Historic Places due to what Schexnaydre declared as “not following proper procedure,” and as a result, new zoning maps will permit construction on and around the property.

“I am disappointed,” Schexnaydre said.

The parish has also been audited by the Environmental Protection Agency for drainage violations in several locations.  Parish President Tommy Martinez assured the council that it would be remedied as soon as possible.

“We were one of the first audited because in 2002 we were asked to come up with a plan to implement in 2007, and until 2008, nothing was done,” Martinez said. “We now have a strong plan, we’ve talked to experts who are working with us, but what really scares me is we have to hire a whole staff to oversee it. It is not going to be an inexpensive endeavor.”

A 1980 Ford L-800 chassis was transferred to the City of Donaldsonville after being declared as surplus through the Cooperative Endeavor Agreement, and initial millages were released for the 2011 property tax roll.

The 20-foot drainage servitude located near the Old Dutchtown Subdivision was also revoked, and the parish conditionally accepted LA 932, also called Joe Sevario Road.

Plans were also implemented to patch, resurface and strike the pavement as were arrangements to install proper drainage and guard rails.

Changes in salaries for off-duty police officers, traffic administrators and medical professionals working for Lamar-Dixon Expo Center were also reassessed and increased.

“It is an increase, but this is the going-rate now,” Martinez said. “We have to move forward.”