HOW TO SPEND: Vidalia officials to consider APRA spending during budget process

Published 4:44 pm Thursday, March 14, 2024

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VIDALIA, La. — Part of the Town of Vidalia’s budgeting process, which will come next week, will be determining how any remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds will be used, Town CPA Debra Moak said.

Moak said Vidalia has $718,000 remaining of ARPA funds.

Some of the ARPA money had been used to offset a power cost adjustment which the town adopted for month the months of June, July and August in 2023. This adjustment helped residents pay less for more energy use in the hot summer.

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“We have used $279,000 of the ARPA funds to offset the power cost adjustment,” Moak said.

“The total of ARPA funds used today is $509,000, leaving a balance of $908,000 remaining undesignated. These funds must be obligated by Dec. 31, 2024, and expended by Dec. 31, 2026. We will begin our budget process next week by having a meeting with all department head personnel. We will start by having a discussion on capital projects and the needs of each department for the 2024-25 budget year.”

Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft said he hopes that the power cost adjustment during the hot summer is something the town continues to do.

“Right now, the town is in great shape,” he said. “I’m hoping this year we will approve using more of the ARPA money for another summer (of high utility bills).”

In financial statements presented Tuesday, Moak said total Revenue is at 33 percent of budget, which is lower than expected due to lower hydro royalties because of the low Mississippi River level.

However, sales tax collections are higher than expected at 69 percent of the budget, Moak said. At the end of February, sales tax collections were $188,000 over the same time last year, she said.

As of Jan. 31, the town has combined cash in the bank of $4.9 million, including restricted funds of $2.73 million in the hydroelectric fund and $546,000 in the sales tax fund.

The town also has investments of $19 million, including the $16.7 million reserved for town projects to be paid for with hydroelectric royalties, $1.6 million in general fund.

Moak said the town’s total assets are at $5 million, total liabilities are at $9.3 million and the fund balance is $43.3 million.

The statement of revenues expenses, expenses and changes in fund balance for the seven months ending Jan. 31 indicates combined revenues of $19 million and total expenditures of $22 million for a change in net position of a negative $3 million. The reason for the large negative net position is due to the utility rebates paid out to residents in November 2023, Moak added.

Currently, the town has a combined total of $80 million invested in Louisiana Asset Management earning 5.4 percent interest. These invested funds include the hydro royalty project fund and $2.3 million of reserved hydro funds and $1.6 million of general funds.

Capital outlay is at 31 percent of budget, personnel costs are at 59 percent of budget, materials and supplies are 54 percent of budget and other services and charges are at 41 percent of budget.

High water on the Mississippi River is good for the hydroelectric royalty revenue that the Town of Vidalia earns from the Sydney A. Murray hydroelectric station, but “bad for people in low-lying areas” of Vidalia who chance having flooding issues, Craft pointed out during the regular town council meeting on Tuesday.

“We’ve gone through two years of drought after probably about eight years of high water” following a historic flood, he said. “It looks like it’s going to be the same this year (with another drought). Normally this time of year, the river is up around the 48-foot flood stage, which is good for the hydro but bad for people in low-lying areas. … We don’t know what Mother Nature is going to bring us. … We try to forecast the best we can what those revenues will be. … We will make our best estimation and try to make a budget for this year.”