Audit says 21st JDC District Attorney’s budget gap must be addressed

The 21st Judicial District Attorney’s Office began 2013 with a deficit and ended the year with an even bigger one, according to a recent audit, but the district attorney blames the budget gap on parish government.

The District Attorney’s Office for Livingston, Tangipahoa and St. Helena parishes had $1.8 million in revenues for 2013, compared to $2.1 million in expenditures, according to an audit report released Monday by the state Legislative Auditor’s Office.

Transfers from other District Attorney’s Office funds narrowed but failed to close the gap, and the general fund deficit grew from $34,578 at the beginning of 2013 to $174,130 at Dec. 31.

In a written response to the audit, the District Attorney’s Office said the deficit was “directly attributable to the lack of responsibility on the part of parish government to adequately provide for the (office’s) operations.”

District Attorney Scott Perrilloux did not return a message seeking comment Monday.

State law requires parish governments to fund the reasonable expenses of a district attorney’s office in the discharge of its official duties.

Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks said Livingston has not always lived up to its obligation under that law, but the parish is working to correct the problem.

“When we came into office (in January 2012), we realized that the DA’s Office had not been receiving the funds that it is due from Livingston Parish government,” Ricks said. “It is a problem we inherited, but we’re on top of it and trying to get it resolved.”

Livingston budgeted about $918,000 for the District Attorney’s Office for 2013, up from $463,000 provided in 2012, parish Finance Director Jennifer Meyers said.

“Some of that goes to salaries, some to health insurance, retirement costs, utilities for his office,” Meyers said. “We pay certain bills, and the rest we send by check each month.”

Tangipahoa and St. Helena parishes also contribute to the district attorney in percentages based on their respective populations, Meyers said. Tangipahoa provides the most funding and St. Helena, the least.

The dollar amount is a moving target, depending on the office’s budget each year.

“Basically, he tells us what we owe,” Meyers said.

Despite the lag in parish funding, however, the audit of Perrilloux’s office indicates that intergovernmental grants, including from the district’s three parishes, were the only bright spots in the district attorney’s general fund revenues for 2013. Parish grants were 38 percent above budget, totaling $566,150; federal grants were up 24 percent, to $203,864; and state grants were up 15 percent, to $20,688.

The parishes also provide funding to the district attorney’s child support programs, which are operated out of a separate special revenue fund.

Other sources of general fund revenue dropped sharply below projections. Commissions on fines and forfeitures, court cost fees and worthless check fees all fell below budget — by 15 percent, 25 percent and 39 percent, respectively — for a collective loss of $163,000, according to the report.

A category labeled simply “Other Revenues” took the biggest hit, dropping from $485,000 in budgeted revenue to an actual income of only $123,033.

On the expenditures side, training was cut by more than half — from $52,000 budgeted to $21,510 actual — while contract services and “other expenditures” were up and other expenses held firm.

The audit report also cited the District Attorney’s Office for failing to refund $185,000 to the office’s asset forfeiture fund. The money had been transferred in 2012 — without a court order and therefore in violation of state law — to help prop up the district attorney’s general fund, the report states.

The 2012 audit report advised the district attorney to return the money to the forfeiture fund, but the latest audit said “budgetary constraints” prevented that from happening in 2013.

In its response to the audit, the District Attorney’s Office said it planned to refund the forfeiture money “immediately after securing additional parish funding.”

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen.