Proposed Baton Rouge budget goes up, though general fund goes down

    Metro Council members got their first look this afternoon at Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s budget for 2020, which is fatter than 2019’s, though there are fewer general fund dollars to spend.

    That’s because the $1 billion operating budget—which includes dedicated revenues that fund pension debt and other mandated costs—is up nearly 8.5% over 2019’s $926 million budget, due largely to two new dedicated taxes that will fund MovEBR roads projects and the Bridge Center.

    The nearly $318 million general fund budget, on the other hand, which funds daily operations in city-parish government, is actually down nearly 1.5% from the current year’s $322.6 million due to revenue declines.

    “The growth came from the dedicated taxes,” says Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel. “The general fund budget is down. Every department made cuts of between one and two percent, except public safety.”

    Revenues to the general fund were down because of a couple of factors. Gaming revenues from the market’s three riverboat casinos continued their decline, contributing to a $1.2 million loss in gaming taxes. Taxes on gross receipts from utilities were also down—nearly $975,000.

    Earlier this year, Georgia Pacific, which was a large consumer of electricity, shuttered a portion of its north Baton Rouge paper mill.

    Elsewhere on the revenue side of the ledger, sales tax collections were actually up slightly— $903,000.

    On the spending side, department heads were told to give merit raises of 3% to all eligible employees, even while reducing their individual department budgets by 1% to 2%. They achieved this by leaving unfilled some 150 positions that have been vacated through attrition, Gissel says.

    Public safety agencies were excluded from the reduction.

    “The administration is working on savings and revenue-generating measures as outlined in the efficiency management project,” Broome says in a statement. “These measures continue to be implemented and so are not included in this budget.”

    The budget does not account for the potential loss of sales tax revenue from the proposed city of St. George. Gissel says the city-parish could not plan for that. 

    “We have a compilation of what we think would be cut but we don’t know which services St. George wants to use and we don’t know what those would (cost),” he says. 

    The council will hold budget hearings throughout the month of November and must, by law, approve a new budget by Dec.10.

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