Editor’s note: This article is part one of a series examining Vernon Parish Police Jury budgets and road maintenance records.
In part one of this series, the Leesville Daily Leader breaks down the income sources for the Vernon Parish Police Jury revenue during 2017 and 2018. Additionally, we have included the revenue VPPJ expects to receive in 2019.
At the regular police jury meeting in May, several residents appeared before the police jury to voice their concerns, complaints and disgust at road conditions throughout Vernon Parish. In particular, the residents of Ford Stewart Road and other roads in District 12.
Following residents comments, and the public interest regarding Vernon Parish roads on Facebook, the Leesville Daily Leader has been looking into the road maintenance records and budgets of the Vernon Parish Police Jury in an effort to answer many of the questions asked. Specifically relating to when road work was completed and where tax dollars going.
VPPJ receives revenue from a number of sources. Among them are ad valorem taxes, timber severance taxes, general severance taxes, Capital Outlay funds and from the Parish Transportation Fund Act.
Some of the revenue received is restricted in what it can be used for, such as Capital Outlay.
Other revenue received, such as the timber severance tax, may have been intended by the state to be used for one purpose is instead deposited into the general fund where it can be used for anything.
According to Jeff Zeringue with the Louisiana Forestry Association, timber severance taxes are collected when trees are severed and become timber.
The tax rate is set by the state each year and the individual or business cutting the trees pays the tax to the state. The state then deducts twenty-five percent of the tax collected and gives it to the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry for sustainment programs.
“Historically, these funds were intended to be used on roads. However, many parishes have the severance taxes it collects deposited into their general fund, (and) not necessarily dedicated to roads,” Zeringue explained.
Rhonda Plummer, VPPJ Secretary/Treasurer, was asked why the timber severance tax collected was deposited into the road maintenance fund.
“Severance tax has always gone into the general fund and this is how the majority of parishes in the state handle these funds. These taxes are not collected at the district or ward level, such as ad valorem taxes that are collected specifically for road maintenance and construction purposes. It is a parish-wide tax that is most commonly used to help pay for the necessary expenses to operate local government. The only taxes we collect that are dedicated specifically for use in a particular ward/district for the maintenance of roads are the ad valorem taxes collected in those areas,” Plummer said.
The ad valorem tax is a tax collected based on the value of a property, such as real estate, inventory and personal property.
The parish tax assessor determines the property values. Additionally, the general severance tax revenue is generated from various taxes levied by the state then distributed to each parish.
The Capital Outlay program is a competitive process, often requiring matching funds, provided through the sale of State General Obligation Bonds that communities apply for to improve, preserve or the development of infrastructure and other community-based projects.
Applications must be approved during each legislative session and funds are only awarded after the bonds are sold.
Finally, the Parish Transportation Fund Act is a special fund in the Louisiana State Treasury that was enacted on January 1, 1990 to provide funding for the maintenance, construction and repair of parish roads.
The amount of funding each parish receives on a per capita basis is determined by the latest federal census or the most recent federal-state cooperative program for local population estimates.
Currently, the VPPJ maintains approximately forty-five individual governmental accounts. The general fund is the primary operating fund for the parish and it accounts for all financial resources of the parish government, except for any funds legally restricted for a specific purpose. Accounts in each fund are designated as major or nonmajor funds.
In 2017 VPPJ collected $5,322,179 in ad valorem taxes. Of that amount, $460,144 was deposited into the general fund and $353,469 was deposited into the Parishwide Road Maintenance fund.
Additionally, $282,435 ad valorem taxes was collected that was deposited into the road district construction fund, a nonmajor governmental fund.
Also in 2017, $504, 264 was deposited into the Parish Transportation Act Fund, also a nonmajor governmental fund.
Finally, in 2017, VPPJ received just over $864,425 in timber severance taxes and $49,000 in general severance taxes.
In 2018, a total of $484,106 in ad valorem taxes was deposited into the general fund and nearly $344, 300 in ad valorem taxes were deposited into the Parishwide Road Maintenance fund. A total of $517, 564 was received in the Parish Transportation Act Fund, $646,886 in timber severance taxes and $326,982 in general severance taxes.
During 2019 VPPJ expects to receive $663,059 in timber severance tax revenue and $335,157 in general severance taxes.
In part two of this series, the Leesville Daily Leader will take a look at Vernon Parish road construction and maintenance records for 2017 and 2018, and what’s planned for 2019.