[StBernard] Taffaro paints gloomy budget picture for St. Bernard Council

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Thu Apr 3 09:22:42 EDT 2008

Taffaro paints gloomy budget picture for St. Bernard Council
by Paul Rioux, St. Bernard bureau, The Times-Picayune
Wednesday April 02, 2008, 3:13 PM
With federal disaster aid starting to dry up more than two and a half years
after Hurricane Katrina, cash-strapped St. Bernard Parish faces a looming
budget crunch that could force several million dollars in spending cuts,
Parish President Craig Taffaro said.

Taffaro said the parish's $39 million operating budget for 2008 is propped
up by $8.5 million from a multi-year federal disaster loan that will be
depleted by the end of the year.

"Without the loan, we would be broke," he told the Parish Council Tuesday
night in Chalmette. "The good news is that the 2008 budget is balanced. The
bad news is that we won't have the loan revenue next year."

The parish faces a projected shortfall of about $4.5 million for 2009 that
must be offset by spending cuts, barring an unexpected surge in revenue,
said David Peralta, the parish's chief administrative officer.

"We have some very difficult decisions to make," Taffaro said. "It won't be
a popularity contest."

He said the biggest budget buster is the sanitation department, which will
cost an estimated $10 million to operate next year, three times the
pre-Katrina figure.

Garbage-hauling expenses have skyrocketed because of demolition and
construction debris as well as efforts to prevent illegal dumping by
stationing trash bins throughout the parish at public expense, Taffaro said.

He said he is considering pulling the bins and stepping up enforcement of
anti-dumping laws to cut costs.

Taffaro said his administration also is weighing a wellness program for
employees to reduce health-insurance costs. Such programs typically require
employees to participate in health screenings or exercise regimens to avoid
paying a greater share of their insurance premiums.

"Our average employee is about 50 years old, and we are committed to paying
their health benefits in retirement until they die," Taffaro said. "So you
can see that we're heading toward a very large bill down the road."

Taffaro's gloomy financial forecast contained one bright spot: He said the
upcoming audit of the 2007 budget is expected to be the parish's first clean
post-Katrina audit.

He said audits for 2005 and 2006 contained major caveats and disclaimers
because the parish's financial record-keeping was in such disarray after
Katrina that auditors couldn't complete their work.

"To put a grade on it, I would probably give it a 'D-minus' or maybe even an
'F,'¤" said Taffaro, who was sworn in as president in January after serving
on the Parish Council since 2004.

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