St. Tammany officials tout leaner government in 2012 report

St. Tammany Parish officials say they were able to cut the cost of government in 2012 and at the same time more efficiently serve residents, according to an annual report released Monday.

Parish President Pat Brister said that after a comprehensive evaluation of each department, more than $3 million was saved from the administration’s $102 million operating budget in 2012 compared with 2011.

Parish Council Chairman Martin Gould also termed the department-by-department review a success, although he pegged the reduction at $2.4 million. Parish spokesman Ronnie Simpson said the figures differ because some of the savings realized through reduced operating costs were used for other needs.

Parish officials also touted the creation of a Department of Development, which Brister said has created a true “one-stop shopping’’ experience for people securing paperwork for construction, opening a business and other activities.

Gould said the parish revised its impact fee ordinance to remove fees for single-family residential construction north of St. Tammany’s urban growth boundary lines. The council also reduced fees for all other types of construction throughout the parish, he said.

Brister said 2012 presented some difficult circumstances, particularly Hurricane Isaac. One of the achievements both branches of government singled out in the report, a new fishing pier near Slidell, was a casualty of that storm just three months after it opened.

On the positive side, Gould said, St. Tammany had less flooding during heavy rains, an improvement he credits to work on four major storm-water detention ponds.

Brister and Gould also pointed to the parish’s role in preserving mental health services, which they said were threatened by state plans to close Southeast Louisiana Hospital, the former state-run inpatient mental health facility in Mandeville.

The hospital is now run by a private company, but Brister said “diligent efforts by parish leaders, area legislators and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals” resulted in an agreement to keep the facility open and give the parish authority to oversee all the property on campus.

However, the hospital continues to be a source of controversy, with former and current employees expressing concerns about patient services and staffing.