BELLE CHASSE, LA (WVUE) - Plaquemines Parish leaders blame an $8.5 million dollar deficit on low oil prices, and a state coastal expert says if the parish fails to find $6 million soon the parish will go back to pre-Katrina flood protection levels.
"It's critical. We're in a situation now where we don't even have a cash flow," said councilman Beau Black. "We can't pay bills to contractors. We can't pay invoices. We're looking for money from settlements and other places to actually pay our bills."
The oil and gas industry makes up 40 percent of Plaquemines' revenue. The amount collected from the industry has dropped by 75 percent since 2014 according to Black.
The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority took notice of the parish's money problems because the parish owes the agency $6 million for two coastal projects near the Mississippi River Delta.
"If we don't pay the CPRA what we owe them now, they are not going through with the projects like Tiger Pass and Spanish Pass," Black said. "They've told us that."
"We cannot use BP dollars to fund operation and maintenance responsibilities of hurricane protection system or protection projects," CPRA Deputy Director Chip Kline said.
Kline believes it is imperative for the parish to match the state's funds and complete the projects.
"We cannot allow ourselves slip back into a pre-Katrina mindset here," Kline said. "Protection of our citizens and the restoration of our coast must be of the utmost priority."
The parish will face the $8.5 million deficit by the end of May.
"We are looking at other ways increasing fees, the ferries, garbage collection. We raised water fees, but we can't keep shoving down on the shoulder of the residents we have to look at other sources," parish administrator Ed Theriot said.
To ease the blow, the parish cut 160 positions, most in maintenance for drainage and grass cutting services. Leaders are now turning to residents to help fund the shortfall if the oil industry doesn't bounce back and soon.
"What we'd like to do is institute the possibility of a 5 mill tax in case we run into problem. We're not saying we'd go ahead and institute it. It would only be if the oil prices do not meet a certain level or that we could put up a one year maximum deal on it," Parish President Amos Cormier said.
Thursday, the five millage increase was deferred at a parish council meeting.
Councilman Black introduced a two-and-a-half millage increase.
The millage increase would would not need to be approved with a public vote.
The council can impose this increase if members pass the measure.