The inevitable fallout from shutdowns during the coronavirus pandemic remains a murky picture for Iberville Parish government, according to Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso.
Sales tax will eventually drop, but solid numbers brought a solid influx of revenue into the parish coffers prior to the shutdown of sit-down restaurants, barrooms and nonessential businesses.
The parish had collected nearly $19 million dollars – an average of just over $6 million per month -- before operations came to a halt March 17.
The revenue report for January proved particularly strong, primarily because those figures are culled from sales during the previous month, which provided a strong flow of revenue from the Christmas shopping season.
Each month’s sales tax revenue reflects money spent during the previous month. February and March continued a solid flow of revenue for the parish, and April may not even show a huge drop-off.
Sales for restaurants, department stores, hardware stores, auto dealerships and convenience stores will reflect the money spent the first half of the month.
“Grocery sales will be good, as will Walmart,” Ourso said. “We really can’t find out the impact from a previous month until May and June, and that’s when we will see a drop.”
How much an effect it will have on the parish revenue remains uncertain, but officials must watch those numbers closely, Ourso said.
Seventy-five percent of the parish’s annual budget relies on sales tax revenue, while the remainder is culled from property taxes.
The bulk of the property tax revenue comes in November and December after mailout of the annual tax notices. Otherwise, the sales tax numbers keep the wheels turning on parish operations.
“The property taxes are a fix number you get every years, but the sales tax is based on the economy, industrial growth, expansion and business in local stores,” Ourso said. “On that note, it looks like we could meet or exceed our first quarter expectations just in the first three months, but we won’t feel the impact of restaurants and other businesses shutting down until the next few months.”
The uncertainty across the board – health and wellbeing, commerce and resuming business, among other issues – remain Ourso’s biggest source of frustration.
“It’s an invisible enemy,” he said. “One thing about a hurricane is that you can watch over it for a week in the Gulf, prepare for it, buckle down and then when it’s over, assess damages with FEMA, but this is so much different – I never thought I’d see something like this.
“We have kids out of school, no parks and recreation activities, the civic center is closed and no ballgames or other activities,” he said. “People have had to postpone weddings and family functions, all these things they had planned but can’t do them.”
At the same time that the number of positive cases Monday neared 300 – which includes inmates at Hunt Correctional Facility and two nursing homes – the total is still high for a parish of just under 32,500.
The question of when to start moving back to normal operations remains one of the biggest uncertainties, Ourso said.
“I feel for all the elected officials having to slowly open the valve to get things going again,” he said. “I can only account for what goes on in public buildings and the work force, and a lot of people need to take this more seriously than they do.
“I fully understand the position taken by Gov. Edwards and President Trump, but you have some states such has Louisiana and New York that have had very active cases, and then some in the Midwest that want to get raring up to go again,” Ourso said. “I can’t imagine the awesome responsibility they face … it’s going to be a learning year.”