New Roads mayor downplays auditor’s concerns about revenue

An accountant urged city leaders Tuesday night to consider raising utility rates for residents in an effort to generate much-needed revenue for city coffers, which he said took a major hit last year from several capital improvement projects.

The likelihood of that happening, however, seems slim after Mayor Robert Myer responded to those concerns by saying most of the capital outlay projects the city invested in last fiscal year were for economic development ventures that are already paying off through increased sales tax revenue.

“We’re already seven months into the year and we’ve seen a 24 percent increase in sales tax revenue,” Myer said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “We are moving in the right direction we set forth to increase revenue by putting the infrastructure in place to do it.”

Myer made his comments after John Morrison, an accountant with Major, Morrison and David, presented city leaders with New Roads’ 2013 audit report.

The audit, released Monday by the state’s Legislative Auditor, tracks the city’s spending from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2013.

Morrison told the council the city was cited for fewer financial violations this year.

Morrison briefly highlighted several of them, which include not providing monthly oversight of the city’s general ledger and falling out of compliance with a few of its bond covenants.

But Morrison also warned city officials to cut expenditures or raise revenue.

In the audit, Morrison wrote: “Numerous improvements were completed during the current fiscal year, specifically the Memorial Boulevard project, which is expected to increase economic development resulting in an increase of tax, license and utility revenues. If the increases in revenues do not materialize, further cost reductions will need to be implemented.”

The Memorial Boulevard project was a more than $1.5 million investment the city put toward building a business corridor in New Roads.

Although he acknowledged the city has already cut expenditures by reducing personnel, Morrison said rising health and retirement costs are cutting into the budget.

“You can only cut so much,” he said.

But the mayor argued that the new businesses along Memorial Drive, and several more major additions like a new hotel and retail shopping center scheduled to open this year, will suppress the need for increased utility rates.

“Based on what we have now, are we on the right course? Yes,” Myer told council members. “Let this (sales tax) money come through. We’re good.”

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.