GONZALES — Ascension Parish’s annual financial report shows that its Lamar-Dixon Expo Center and parish-owned sewer systems took operational losses before carried-over surpluses or other revenue made up the shortfalls.
Despite that slip, Ascension Parish government rode increased sales and property tax collections in 2011 to a total net worth of nearly $142 million, twice as much as the parish spent last year, the financial audit says.
The 2011 calendar year report, produced by independent auditors, was presented to the Parish Council last month and is posted on the parish government website.
During a June 21 council meeting where the audit was presented, Tommy LeJeune, a partner with parish auditor Faulk and Winkler LLC, noted that total spending increased in 2011 but the parish reduced operational expenses and put that savings into infrastructure assets.
“As a taxpayer, that is what you want to see your government do,” he said.
But the report wasn’t all aces for parish government.
The Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, which the parish is trying to run at a profit, took a $381,717 operating loss in 2011.
The loss came before the parish’s share of hotel-motel taxes collected in Ascension — $249,996 in 2011 — plus other contributions lowered that one-year deficit to $94,780, the audit says. The parish has decided to put its share of the hotel-motel tax revenue toward Lamar-Dixon.
The center’s fund balance, which is flush from the center’s use as a storage base for BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, covered the rest of the shortfall and ended the year with $1.06 million in the bank. BP withdrew its operations from the center during 2011.
Gwen LeBlanc, the parish’s chief financial officer, said Friday Lamar-Dixon’s operational loss was due to capital depreciation of $317,780. Depreciation is typically a planned annual expense.
The audit shows Lamar-Dixon’s operating revenues, such as fees for use of buildings, event parking or BP lease revenues, were $1.9 million in 2011. That’s down from $3.5 million in 2010, but up from $1.5 million in 2009.
Total annual expenses to run the center in those three years, however, have been within $40,000 of one other at around $2.3 million per year. Parish government tax collections did not supplement Lamar-Dixon’s fund in 2011.
The expo center’s mission, according to its website, “is to provide the community with a multi-use events facility — with an emphasis on equestrian and 4-H activities — which can be used as a resource for economic development. Our aim is to attract diverse entertainment to the community in a safe, user-friendly environment.”
The sewer systems the parish is running, primarily made up of small, private rural systems the parish took over, racked up a $647,708 operational loss in 2011. About $1.3 million in surplus collections from the 1-cent sales tax supplemented the fund and helped turn the operating loss into a net income of $724,706.
Overall, governmental revenues from taxes, primarily sales and property taxes, rose 8.6 percent between 2010 and 2011 from $54 million to $58.7 million, the audit says.
Sales tax collections alone rose 9 percent between 2010 and 2011 to $35 million.
Under the parish’s budget ordinance in 2011, half of the surplus from the parish’s 1-cent sales tax fund, one of three sales tax funds, was added to existing road dollars, or about $1.5 million, while the remaining surplus went to utilities, parish officials said Friday.
Total revenues, which include intergovernmental sources, licenses and permits, rose nearly 7 percent from $67.4 million in 2010 to $72 million in 2011.
On the expense side, total spending rose 1 percent from $70.8 million in 2010 to $71.5 million in 2011, the audit says.
The bulk of the expense increase came in capital outlay, which rose $1.4 million, primarily due to the purchase of a fleet of new fire trucks.
General government expenses, which include many basic parish operations, actually fell between 2010 and 2011 from $11.1 million to $10.5 million.
The total net worth figure cited in the audit is a reflection of total fund balances across all parish funds, whether dedicated or not.
The general fund, the parish’s primary operational fund, ended the year with a $17.6 million fund balance in 2011.
That’s an increase from $15.6 million in 2010 primarily due to a rise sales and property tax collections. About $14.5 million was not assigned for a use.
The parish ended the year with $92.2 million in long-term debt, a net reduction of $1.6 million.