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|OPPJ to begin shaping 2009 budget; Juror Jackson says millage hikes possible|
The Ouachita Parish Police Jury will consider increasing the millages it levies to generate money for its general fund and the Ouachita Correctional Center, according to police juror Charles Jackson.
Meanwhile, Jackson believes the police jury should reduce the millage it levies for Green Oaks Detention Center of Youth.
Jackson serves as chairman of the police jury's finance committee.
"My inclination would be to roll up the general fund and OCC (millage rates)," Jackson said. "What I personally would like to do is not only let Green Oaks (millage rate) roll back, but reduce its millage rate. That way we could keep the overall property tax neutral when we rolled up OCC and the general fund."
"So it would even out," Jackson added.
"We could probably do that for one year, but we'll need to look at inching it (Green Oaks millage rate) up a little next year," Jackson continued. "But right now Green Oaks has a very substantial fund balance, and a very substantial cash balance, which is just as important."
In the upcoming weeks the Ouachita Parish Police Jury will begin reviewing its departmental budgets to prepare its 2009 spending plan.
Jackson expects departmental budgets in 2009 will be tight across the board.
"The general fund will be very tight," Jackson said.
"The bottom line is 75 percent of all funds that are in the general fund are allocated to judiciary, the district attorney and coroner's office," said Jackson, referring to expenditures that state law mandates.
"Another 15 percent is allocated to keeping the doors open at the parish," Jackson explained. "That only leaves us with 10 percent to do all the discretionary stuff, including drainage, Cheniere Lake, the veteran's department, all of those things. That's only $600,000."
It's very, very tight," Jackson added. "It's going to be a challenge."
"What we're hoping to do this time is really put a focus on benchmarking, and making sure that the budgets we've got make sense compared to similar-sized operations," Jackson said.
That also would include the police jury's expenditures on parish employees, including salaries and benefits as well as health care packages for parish workers.
"We've also got to figure out what we can do on employment compensation," Jackson continued. "We'll be focusing a lot more hopefully on some personnel matters."
Like other governing bodies, the police jury is facing increased costs in light of high energy prices. Those increased costs concern Jackson.
"Inflation is up, energy costs are up, and we have to look at what we can pay our employees," Jackson said. "For most of our employees, we have been able to do a two percent (pay raise) per year.
"That helps, but the energy trouble has really hurt. It's a challenge, and we'll have to see how the numbers shake out."
Last year, OCC's budget was a source of contention between the police jury and the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office.
Jurors received two OCC budgets last year. One was prepared by the police jury's staff. The other one was prepared by the sheriff's office. There was a $1 million difference between the two due to the number of Department of Corrections prisoners each expected to be housed at OCC during the 2008 fiscal year.
"The jail budget will continue to be a problem," Jackson explained. "The census of the jail continues to move up. In the spring, it was in the 700 range. By summer it was in the 900 range, and last month, it kicked over 1,000. Over half of them are pre-trial (detainees) which means we're not even being compensated for them. We can't work them. Basically, they sit there and eat. So, that will be a challenge. That will be one we will have to look closely at."
The budget for the Ouachita Parish Board of Library Control is another budgetary matter Jackson expects the police jury will need to scrutinize closely.
While the library board last year had a little more than $5 million on hand, the police jury wanted to spend $4.8 million on the construction of two new libraries. One will be built in Richwood, and the other in western Ouachita Parish.
The library's millage rate is another that jurors will consider rolling forward. That vote could be held at the next regular meeting on Monday, Oct. 6. The millages eligible to be rolled forward are the ones for the general fund, OCC, Green Oaks, library and fire department.