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Virus impact on police jury budget unclear

Thursday, May 21, 2020
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In his first budget report since being appointed treasurer for the Lincoln Parish Police Jury, Chris Hyde told jurors Tuesday that it’s still unknown exactly how much the economic impact of the novel coronavirus and Louisiana’s stay-at-home order will affect the parish’s finances.

Sales tax collections based on March transactions show the jury down 12% compared to March of 2019, a difference of some $70,000, Hyde said. But the stay-athome order was only in effect for the last nine days of March, and the April figures aren’t in yet. He told jurors the balances in most of their funds are

He told jurors the balances in most of their funds are healthy enough to withstand some short-term dips in revenue. The general fund, which is still working without any oil and gas severance tax revenue, has a balance of just under $4 million, or about 1.75 times a year’s worth of total expenses.

“So I guess the good news is that we have cash to keep us from drowning in the short term,” Hyde said.

He and Parish Administrator Courtney Hall said the coronavirus situation is most likely to affect the solid waste disposal fund, the parks and recreation fund and the Lincoln Parish Detention Center’s budget.

Solid waste disposal operates the landfill and makes contributions to the trash collection funds of the municipalities across the parish. That fund has seen some $1.4 million in sales tax collections thus far, which is only slightly behind the budgeted pace for the year.

But the fund sports a comparatively less healthy fund balance, accounting for only about 25% of a year’s worth of expenses.

If April and May collections are significantly lower thanks to business closures, officials said the first item to receive cuts would be the transfer to municipalities that helps with their solid waste collections.

Ruston, Grambling, Dubach, Choudrant, Simsboro and the police jury’s own solid waste collection funds were originally slated to receive a combined contribution of roughly $2.5 million from the jury’s sales tax collections this year.

Those contributions are made from the excess of tax money after the landfill operation expenses are paid.

“So if (tax revenue) is substantially impacted throughout the year, then the checks we send out to the other municipalities could be reduced,” Hall said. “We’re not there yet — I hope things will iron out.”

The Lincoln Parish Park budget is also anticipated to take a hit from the virus situation, as less travel stays means less revenue from the park’s portion of the Ruston Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau’s tax on hotel and motel stays.

While that revenue source is falling behind the budgeted pace, Hyde said the raise in admission fees the police jury recently approved has increased the park’s income from admissions.

It won’t be clear how the park budget will be affected overall until more recent tax figures are in.

Finally, the Lincoln Parish Detention Center receives a quarter-cent sales tax that makes up roughly half of its budgeted income.

While hits are expected, Hall said the prison boasts a relatively healthy $2 million fund balance. The long-awaited trustee dormitory expansion is underway, which will help lower expenses and generate additional revenue when completed in the closing months of the year.

“If (the coronavirus situation) gradually relents, we’ll come out of this in really good shape as a police jury on the whole because of our conservative fiscal policy we’ve maintained through decades,” Hall said. “I know April’s going to be tough. May could be tough. But hopefully things will start picking up.”