Terrebonne tightens belt, continues projects

Despite a year of weak sales tax revenues, Terrebonne Parish is still in strong financial shape, according to its leading man.

Terrebonne Parish President Gordon Dove announced the parish was able to add $2.8 million to its capital projects budget in 2017. Dove said the parish is currently expecting an ending fund balance of $5.5 million in the general fund and $18.3 million in all other governmental funds at the end of 2017.

Dove announced this in a written “State of the Parish” statement he was set to address the Parish Council with at last Wednesday’s meeting. However, he was absent, as he was meeting with Rep. Steve Scalise in New Orleans to discuss securing federal money and expediting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval on drainage and levee projects. Dove said he is going to Washington D.C. in March to further advocate for federal money, particularly for the Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee system.

“It’s time the federal government put up money for Morganza after the people of Terrebonne and Louisiana put up all the money for it,” Dove said.

In Terrebonne’s first year in office with Dove and the new council, the parish finished with a surplus of more than $500,000 in 2016. However, the surplus was the result of tough decisions on the parish’s original $202.1 million budget last year. Last year, Dove instituted a hiring freeze on nonessential positions, stopped raises for employees and required a 10 percent cut across all departments, saving Terrebonne $4.1 million. After another 8 percent cut across most departments, Terrebonne’s 2017 budget sits at $195.7 million, with $11.8 million in operating capital and capital outlay.

Dove credited his department heads for finding savings in their budgets and Chief Financial Officer Kandace Mauldin as well as Parish Manager Al Levron for vigilantly monitoring Terrebonne’s fiscal situation. He said the continued weak economy hampered by low oil prices calls for even greater vigilance than usual.

“You can run it like a business when things are up. But when things are down you have to really, really tighten the belt,” Dove said.

Dove also highlighted ongoing and future projects in Terrebonne in his address. The $30.6 million Falgout Canal floodgate, funded by both parish and state money, should be under construction by May of this year. According to the statement, both the Bayou Gardens and Thompson Road extensions should be completed by April. The parish’s emergency operations center is set to be completed this month, while the Country Drive widening in Bourg should be finished by August.

A number of projects are set to start in the near future as well. The extension of Hollywood Road from Valhi Blvd. to Southdown Mandalay Road should start in about two months and be completed next year. In Dulac, construction on 1.5 miles of redundant levees, extra protection inside the Morganza system, along Suzie Canal is slated to start in June. According to Dove, the levee should take 12-14 months to complete. Dove also said Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter will have inmates clean the Houma Tunnel after Mardi Gras, with the parish providing materials for the cleaning.

Dove said the parish is still in a position to pay for projects as things come along, noting if a $500,000 grant comes in that requires a parish match, he plans on matching it. The parish president Terrebonne had multiple savings in January this year, including $130,000 from the parish’s new pharmacy policy. He said Terrebonne has not budgeted for those savings, but hopes they continue at that pace. He said as long as government officials continue to monitor the parish’s books, Terrebonne can ride out the current financial malaise with relative comfort.

“We’re sitting in very, very strong, good shape. You’ve got to keep the parish going. We’re watching what we’re spending,” Dove said.