Simmesport eliminates debt, projects balanced budget for 2020-21 fiscal year
Belt-tightening measures, layoffs and a new utility meter program have turned Simmesport from looking at a $450,000 deficit to one that projects a balanced budget for this year.
Mayor Leslie Draper III told Town Council members in the July regular and special meetings that a key element in his financial recovery plan were the council-approved measures that reduced the town's payroll by about 39 percent.
A major reason for the results is a lease/purchase meter program that provided the town with $600,000 up front that allowed it to pay off debts that date back many years. Those outstanding debts included $136,067 to the IRS, $160,609 to DEQ and $77,000 to DOTD, as well as paying off loans for police cars and maintenance equipment. Draper said the town is now debt-free, which will also help the town by reducing monthly payments on debts.
Upgrading the meters, combined with a rate hike earlier this year to raise the water rates up to the parish average, has increased utility revenues by over 50 percent, Draper said.
The company, Sustainability Partners, is using Simmesport as a case study to market their program. The combination of the more efficient meters, rate hike and Sustainability Partners' concessions will create another $1.7 million disbursement in the near future that will be used to upgrade the town's aging wastewater treatment plant.
"I believe in partnerships, therefore I enlisted partners to help us solve our problems," Draper said. "It’s a Biblical principle to eat when someone prepares a table for you. If I'm hungry, I am going to sit down at the table unless it is (a) sinful, (b) immoral or (c) illegal," he added with a laugh. "God provided us a table for our financial hunger. I truly believe that."
He said outstanding debts to the IRS and the state DOTD and DEQ have been paid off, as have loans to purchase police cars and maintenance equipment.
Retiring the town's debts will also eliminate monthly expenses in the budget, giving the town more control over its monthly financial dealings, he said.
"I'm excited," Draper told the council at its July 13 regular meeting.
He said the actions have put the town back into compliance with state laws related to budgeting and finances, so it is now in a position to seek state and federal grants.
Perhaps the biggest single reason for the turnaround is reducing payroll. The town's payroll in the pre-cut budget was over $823,000. After the cuts, the annual payroll was reduced to just over $502,000, Draper noted.
Draper's comments to the council indicate no problems with looming deficits or bail-outs from reserve funds for this budget year.
COMMUNITY COMPLEX PROJECTS
In the July 30 special meeting, Draper gave the council updates on several town projects.
He said proposed projects in the former Simmesport Community Complex -- the former DunbarHigh/Simmesport Elementary School -- have not been forgotten but are on hold due to COVID-related reasons.
"We are in a pandemic," he said. "There's not a lot we can do right now."
The proposed Health Unit branch is still under discussion. There is a plan to remodel a former clinic in the building for use by the Health Unit and another plan that would construct a new building on the Community Complex property.
The town is leasing the property from the Avoyelles Parish School District for 99 years, paying the lease in in-kind services that benefit the community and/or support education in the area.
Draper noted one of those community outreach/education support programs involves Simmesport native Joe Simon, a Grammy winning R & B artist in the 1970s and now a Gospel minister with an international ministry.
"Joe Simon is past ready to do things here," Draper said, "but COVID has caused us to shut things down."
Simon recently told the newspaper he is ready to begin his music education program for area youth as soon as the town gives him the go-ahead. He has already secured donations of musical instruments for the program.
Draper told council members that The Pierite Group, a consultant firm based in Marksville, has donated money to upgrade part of the building to house tutorial programs and to provide computers and internet access for that program.