WALKER — When he got a bill saying the state wants $1.3 million for work done more than 12 years ago, Mayor Bobby Font was shocked, he said Wednesday.
The Department of Transportation and Development wants the first payment in 30 days to pay for utility relocation work or it will no longer grant permits to the city, Font said.
“That’s going to hurt us,” the mayor said.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” he added. “The state is hurting for money.”
The bill is from a state project that began in 1998 to relocate Walker utility lines in preparation for widening La. 447, Font said.
The bill was part of the $5.5 million widening project, according to Jodi Conachen, of DOTD.
The state had a contract with the city and billed the city in 2003, she said.
“Everyone thought there would be forgiveness” for the work, but that apparently isn’t the case, Font said.
The bill wasn’t paid by the previous two administrations and Font said it wasn’t on his radar because the work occurred so long ago.
“The legislative auditor did a review of our records and requested that we become more aggressive in pursuing these bills,” Conachen said.
Also the attorney general informed DOTD that it is required by law to collect such bills, she said.
“They are calling in the chips.” Font said
But those “chips” aren’t in Walker’s budget and will cause problems for the city even though it only has to pay $130,000 this month to avoid being denied future permits from DOTD, Font said.
Planned spending for everything from roads and bridges to parks and recreation will have to be re-evaluated as the city determines where to cut, he said.
“We’re going to have to scrape and find money somewhere,” he said, adding that “possibly will hurt each department.”
Since Walker doesn’t have the DOTD bill in its $13 million general fund budget, and only has about $530,000 in its rainy day fund, the city will take an option offered by the state to pay the debt over 10 years, Font said.
The city needs to keep the money in the rainy day fund to deal with unforeseen emergencies, the mayor said.
“We don’t know if a hurricane will hit next month and we will need operating money immediately,” Font said.
Though the expense was for relocation of utility lines when Walker South Road was widened, Font said city officials don’t want to raise fees on water, gas and sewage disposal.
“We will do everything we can to not to raise fees,” he said. “We will exhaust all other possibilities.”
Conachen said DOTD will meet with Walker officials to discuss the bill.