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Welsh may raise sales tax to offset $360,000 deficit

Last Modified: Friday, October 18, 2013 1:29 PM

Doris Maricle // American Press

WELSH — City officials are eyeing a sales tax to make up for a more than $360,000 deficit caused by a shortfall in revenues generated by the Police Department.

“I don’t want a sales tax, but we need to take steps now before we get to the point of no return,” Alderman Bob Owens said Tuesday. “Are we going to wait until we have to start having layoffs and cutting services before we talk about a sales tax?”

The sales tax issue is only in the early discussion stages, and no decision has been made on the amount of sales tax needed or when an election could be called, Owens said. The next available election ballot is not until April.

Problems with the town’s finances began earlier this year when the Welsh Police Department only brought in $269,171 of a projected $310,000 — leading to a $40,828 deficit — for its Traffic Enforcement Detail. The program pays officers overtime to patrol Interstate 10.

The department also failed to bring in a projected $418,999 in fines, courts costs and witness funds. As of Aug. 31, only $14,636 had been generated in revenues, according to Owens.

No TED details have been worked since Police Chief Marcus Crochet took office, Owens said.

Mayor Carolyn Louviere said the Police Department has had to do “a lot of repair work and work to get the department up and running effectively” since Crochet took office in January.

“This has taken more time than expected, so those funds weren’t raised,” Louviere said. “This leaves a shortfall for us to operate.”

The Police Department is in the process of returning the TED program back to Interstate 10, along with a new electronic traffic enforcement program, and putting a patrol car on the interstate, she said.

The council introduced an ordinance this week establishing the electronic traffic enforcement program, which will allow officers to use a hand-held, camera-equipped radar gun to photograph the license plates of speeders. Citation will be mailed to the offenders.

A public hearing on the ordinance is set for 6 p.m. Nov. 19.

Officials implemented an across-the-board freeze on hiring and pay raises and amended the budget earlier this month to make up for a $151,000 shortfall.

Now officials say more may need to be done to get the budget back in line, including a short-term sales tax, Owens said. But not all council members support the idea.

“It is going to be a tough pill to sell,” Alderman Allen Ardoin said. “But the bottom line is we can’t be operating in the red.”

The $300,000 was only a budget projection and never really in the budget, Ardoin said.

He also said the town has raised its electrical rates, which should generate an additional $150,000 for the town.

“We can do a study to see about a sales tax, but it’s not going to fly,” he said. “We raised the electrical rates, and the Police Jury is going to try to pass something for the new jail. The people just won’t go for this.”

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