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|Police jury deserves praise|
The Ouachita Parish Police Jury should be commended in a light of an audit of the police jury's finances, which was revealed to the public earlier this week.
At the police jury's regular meeting Monday, certified public accountant Francis Huffman disclosed the police jury's financial audit for the 2008 fiscal year, which ended Dec. 31.
Huffman's firm, Luffey, Huffman, Ragsdale & Soignier, conducted the police jury's audit. The Monroe firm has been overseeing the police jury's finances for years.
Huffman's firm's report said the police jury's audit was "good," meaning the police jury's finances, for the most part, were sound at the end of the 2008 fiscal year. The "good" report the police jury received marked the fourth straight year the police jury posted a sound audit.
At the end of 2008, the police jury's net assets totaled some $260.6 million. Roughly $193.1 million of the $260.6 million was restricted or invested in capital assets. That would include "land, buildings, equipment, infrastructure and all other assets of tangible nature."
When the 2008 fiscal year ended, the police jury possessed a total fund balance of $64.9 million, an increase of some $1.8 million over the 2007 fiscal year.
The police jury closed out the 2008 fiscal year with a $155,000 surplus in its general fund. The general fund balance totaled roughly $6.8 million.
Though we recognize a $155,000 surplus was not a great deal of money, a surplus beats a deficit in any given year. That would be especially true given the police jury's limited revenue streams while bearing the burden to serve all of the unincorporated areas of Ouachita Parish.
While most major departments at the police jury ended the 2008 fiscal year in the black, or on a positive note cash-wise, Green Oaks Detention Center and Ouachita Correctional Center posted deficit spending last year.
That's a cause for concern for members of the police jury and for every taxpayer in Ouachita Parish.
Remember, the police jury owns Green Oaks and OCC. Thus, the police jury is responsible for finances at the two correctional centers. That means the people of Ouachita Parish are on the hook, so to speak, for Green Oaks and OCC.
In 2008, Green Oaks encountered a $509,166 deficit. OCC recorded a $365,729 deficit.
The financial situation at OCC is especially alarming.
OCC must house some 400 Department of Corrections inmates each month to make ends meet. DOC pays the police jury about $25 per day to house each DOC inmate. Accordingly, housing DOC inmates at OCC provides the police jury with much-needed revenues to operate the parish prison, which can hold roughly 1,000 inmates.
In any given month, OCC incarcerates about 300 DOC inmates. It would hold more, but OCC is burdened with a high number of pre-trial detainees, or inmates who have not had their cases vetted by 4th Judicial District Court.
District Attorney Jerry Jones says the pre-trial detainee problem at OCC is directly related to the out-of-control drug problem in Ouachita Parish and in America as a whole. In other words, a large number of pre-trial detainees at OCC are incarcerated because of drugs, directly or indirectly.
Jones is right.
Unfortunately, the drug problem is not going to get any better, according to Jones, as long as drugs flow freely from Mexico to points north in the United States.
That does not sound good for the financial situation at OCC. That means the police jury—ultimately the people of Ouachita Parish—has a problem on its hands.
It must be addressed, too, in the near future.
In the meantime, let's not overlook the good job the police jury has been doing in handling the people's money otherwise.