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|Police jury begins work on 2010 fiscal year budgets|
Ouachita Parish police jurors began the daunting task Monday of crafting its budget for the 2010 fiscal year.
Among the proposed budgets discussed during the police jury's finance committee meeting were those for the Health Unit, Ouachita Parish Public Library, Green Oaks Juvenile Detention Center, Mosquito Abatement and the 911 Communications District.
Police juror Charles Jackson, who serves as the police jury's finance committee chairman, said of the proposed budgets discussed Monday the one for Green Oaks Juvenile Detention Center was the biggest.
"Green Oaks is looking fine," Jackson said. "We're continuing to review some things on the personnel side, so we will probably revisit it again at least once, if not twice during the weeks ahead."
"We feel good about where Green Oaks is, and the library is in good shape," he said.
At the end of the 2008 fiscal year, Green Oaks posted a $506,166 deficit.
"We'll run a deficit again this year because rather than assess the full millage, we're burning down some of the fund balance that's over and above what we have to have (for Green Oaks)," Jackson said.
At the end of the 2008 fiscal year, Green Oaks' fund balance totaled $7.2 million.
Health Unit officials approached the police jury about providing additional employees at the unit.
"It clearly is shifting of burden from the state to the parishes, and it's a very serious issue," Jackson said of the health unit's additional responsibilities in light of state budget cuts.
"We're considering what we can do with the WIC program," Jackson continued. "That clearly is direct care that reaches out to women and children and it's a very serious thing. I would say of all the ones (budgets) we've looked at so far, the one with the health unit, which we have very little control over, is the most serious."
Budget discussions concerning Ouachita Correctional Center are expected to begin within the next several weeks, Jackson said.
He said the OCC budget along with the general fund budget will be two of the most challenging this year.
Ouachita Correctional Center is on track to post a $1.1 million deficit at the end of the current fiscal year. The deficit at OCC has been an issue widely discussed by police jurors throughout the year. The deficit stems from the high number of pretrial detainees and overpopulation at the parish prison. Roughly 60 percent of the inmates at OCC are awaiting trial. The parish is not reimbursed for providing space and care for pretrial detainees.
"The jail (budget) will certainly be serious," Jackson said.
He said OCC's budget has benefited from an increase in assessed property value this year, which was more than originally anticipated.
"The fact remains that OCC suffers from a chronic deficit as opposed to a periodic deficit," Jackson explained. "We're at the full millage and we're still running a substantial deficit. So, in my mind, until we get OCC to a break even point on a consistent, regular basis, it is in crisis.
"We've seen some progress on pretrial detainees. That number has come down over the last six weeks or so. We're very appreciative of the work the judges and DA have been doing on that. I certainly encourage them to continue what their doing."
Jackson said pretrial detainees at OCC was close to 500.
"I'd love to see us get somewhere in the 450 range, but progress is progress," he said.
Parish officials have repeatedly said for OCC to break even financially, it must house less than 400 pretrial detainees.
Concerning the police jury's general fund, Jackson said the police jury had not received funding requests from the 4th Judicial District Court and the 4th Judicial District Attorney's office.
The police jury is required by law to provide funding to support the operation of those offices.
"Those are the big drivers on the general fund," Jackson said. "We know from the budgeting last year that there were things the judges deferred for a year, but we know they have to have this year."
With the addition of two new 4th Judicial District Court judges, who joined the court Jan. 1, the police jury has been looking at ways to accommodate them at the parish courthouse.
"Space continues to be an issue in the courthouse," Jackson said. "It's just a question of squeezing down."
He anticipates the police jury will call on the committee formed a year ago to look into spacing issues at the courthouse and solutions to remedy the problem.
"The biggest issue is until we can identify sources for funding, moving anything out of the courthouse really is not on the plate," Jackson said.
The police jury's 2009 fiscal year ends Dec. 31.
Typically, the police jury likes to have next year's fiscal year budget adopted by the end of December each year.