On Feb. 3, a column I wrote was published in the newspaper. At the Feb. 8 council meeting, accusations began to fly in my direction with the parish president calling the column “very irresponsible, incorrect and misleading.” The government reporter stated that Dove’s words were “correcting” mine, which could lead some to believe that Dove’s words accurately assessed the situation. Without further research, such a conclusion was premature.
It’s never irresponsible to attempt to keep members of the public informed as to the manner in which their money is being spent.
The parish president’s correction said that the general fund did not have $5 million as stated in my column but actually had $6.9 million. A review of the video of the Budget and Finance Committee meeting of Jan. 9 showed that following a councilperson’s question of the parish’s chief financial officer about the amount of money in the general fund, CFO Kandace Mauldin stated, “It’s right at like $5 million.”
When I questioned the finance department, the difference was explained to me. The approximately $6.9 million is indeed what is currently in the general fund. The $5 million, which was discussed at the earlier meeting, represented the amount of money that was anticipated to remain in the general fund as of the end of 2017 after all budgeted expenditures are made for the year. The meaning behind the statement is the same regardless of which number is being used. At the end of the year, because we’ve approved expenditures for the criminal court fund, raises for the justices of the peace and constables and money for parish recreation needs, we will be in a situation where two things will be necessary to return the parish’s general fund to a level consistent with government best accounting practices.
First, we will have to replace the money we’ve taken from the general fund for 2017, which to date is approaching $300,000. Second, we will have to find the money for the 2018 budget to cover the recurring expenses to which we’ve committed during 2017. It’s only February and we’re already looking at having to find nearly $600,000 at the end of the year. While the semantics may have varied, the results are the same. I’ll leave it to the readers and voters to decide if anyone is being misleading and, if so, who.
The other accusation involved the tired repetition of complaints about a newspaper piece I wrote in early 2016. The parish president and one of the councilpersons accused me of being the cause of my district losing $8 million for the dredging of Bayou Terrebonne. While I sincerely doubt the governor of Louisiana cares what I write, if my accusers are accurate, then why was the Bayou Sports Complex also cut from the state budget? It’s not in District 3.
The fact is we have two choices in our state right now. Because funds have been exhausted, either cuts must be made or new sources of revenues must be adopted. In the absence of new taxes, it should surprise us if we were not victim to the budget cuts that are inevitable to balance the state’s budget.
This is another reason why parish government should exercise extreme frugality regarding new spending. We have no idea what new financial obligations will fall into our laps during the current state legislative session.
I will strive to continue keeping you informed as accurately as possible, and I invite your feedback by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gerald Michel represents District 3 on the Terrebonne Parish Council.