Pointe Coupee may raise rates

Pointe Coupee Parish residents may pay more for some parish services next year if the Police Jury chooses to adopt rate increases to help offset shortfalls in its proposed 2013 operating budget.

Those increases include a 10 percent hike for residential natural gas service and a 4 percent increase in garbage collection fees.

The jury is also poised to adopt a $5 per month drainage impact fee, bringing the total estimated increase to about $6 per customer, officials said.

The 4 percent increase for trash service is based on an escalating service charge called for in the parish’s contract with Progressive Waste Solutions.

It will bump the trash fee from $18 a month per household, to $18.72 per month for each household, parish Treasurer Becky Mayeux said during the jury’s recent finance meeting.

Exactly how much the natural gas fee increase would affect residents will vary depending on customer use, Mayeux said at the meeting.

Juror Cornell Dukes said the rate increases would be a temporary fix to the Police Jury’s looming budget problems.

Dukes said the best way to address budget shortfalls, in the long run, is to present voters with a request to raise the parish’s millage rate, which has remained the same for more than 30 years.

“We’re at a point now where our expenses are rapidly catching up with our revenue,” Dukes said Thursday, a day after the jury Finance Committee met to review the 2013 budget proposal.

“Before we have to make any drastic decisions, I think we need to give the people the opportunity to allow us to provide the quality service we provide at this time,” Dukes said.

According to a 2011 Louisiana Tax Commission report, Pointe Coupee Parish’s 54.8-mill tax rate is the second-lowest in the state.

Exactly when the Police Jury would be able to put such proposals on an election ballot and how large a millage increase would be needed to put the parish government on an improved financial footing are details Dukes said could be determined by a jury subcommittee.

“This would be our last resort,” Dukes said. “We can go in and make minor cuts here and there in the budget, but that’s like shooting pellets at an elephant. We have to make some real decisions that’s going to generate some money.”

Meanwhile, a majority of the 12-member Police Jury appears to be in agreement with Jury President Melanie Bueche, who has made it clear since 2013 budget talks began in October that she is opposed to any millage increase.

Bueche said Thursday she’s against an increase in ad valorem taxes because doing so would affect only parish landowners.

Bueche proposed enacting a drainage impact fee as an alternative.

“Everyone is impacted by drainage (and) the general public is aware we do not have a lot of revenue coming in, and that’s OK; makes for a challenge,” Bueche said. “Challenges really make you work hard to find innovative ways to continue to provide the services you already are (providing) without having to ask the public for more.”

According to the 2013 spending plan, prepared by Baton Rouge accounting firm Faulk & Winkler, the proposed $5 monthly drainage fee would generate $525,000 a year, placing the jury in a stronger position to deal with drainage problems and issues.

Bueche said the parish’s $1.2 million drainage fund is heading for a $610,000 shortfall, which the jury has supplemented in the past by pulling money out of its general fund.

The drainage fund is primarily supported by more than $500,000 in sales tax revenues annually, she said.

Residents will be given the opportunity to voice their concerns about any tax increase proposals, as well as review the 2013 proposed budget, during the Tuesday budget hearing in the Police Jury meeting room.

The jury will consider adopting the budget later during the same meeting.