THE INVESTIGATORS: Temporary loss in sales tax revenue amid coronavirus pandemic could affect MOVEBR plan

THE INVESTIGATORS: Coronavirus pandemic could have impact on MOVEBR transportation project

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - One of the most significant road plans in East Baton Rouge Parish history is set to deliver more than 70 projects funded by a half-cent sales taxes from taxpayers over a 30-year period.

As the state closes in on a month of all non-essential businesses being shut down and with fewer tax dollars being generated, MOVEBR could take a hit.

Fred Raiford, director of Transportation and Drainage for the parish, says he anticipates there will be some type of impact. WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked how much of an impact could the program face at this point.

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“You can’t have this type of situation happen and there not be an impact,” said Raiford. “How much? Well, that all depends on how long it lasts and when can we get people back to work. Just all those factors that we don’t control do impact the revenues aspect and certainly, from my perspective, we’re going to have to look at how we deal with those.”

The plan collects money from sales taxes within the parish, but does not include taxes on groceries or prescriptions. Raiford says it’s hard to tell exactly how that will affect the better roads taxpayers are already paying for because it’s still unclear how long this temporary loss is going to last.

“Anytime that you’re counting on certain sales tax revenue and it’s not being generated, you’ve got to be prepared to address that,” said Raiford. “Regardless of what happens without the sales tax revenue, we can’t move the program as fast as we’d like to do. That’s a fact.”

There is money out there though. According to the city-parish finance department, taxes for the plan have been collected since April of 2019, with about $42 million-plus bonds set aside to go to the program right now. Raiford says they will not know how much they’re losing out on amid the coronavirus outbreak though until at least the next few months.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked depending on what those numbers are when this is all said and done, whether some of those projects would potentially have to be shaved down or scaled back a little bit.

“Well, that all depends on what the revenue that gets generated, but you know we have alternate plans,” said Raiford.

Raiford says the finance department is already meeting with his team weekly to determine the best way to move forward in the midst of this pandemic. The goal is to comb through existing money and track whether future funds will be able to meet future needs.

“We don’t want to over-program, not until we have a better idea of how long this thing is going to last and then once that is, the question is do we see the revenue generated for the next couple of months? Is it getting back to a portion where we think it needs to be?” said Raiford.

At this point, MOVEBR will still happen, but Raiford says it’s up to them to manage what it looks like based on the money available.

“That’s just part of the process that we’re going to have to deal with, but we’re going to move forward and I think it is a positive direction,” said Raiford.

Raiford says they already have some projects that are ready to roll as soon as they get the green light to accept bids, but right now, he says they’re asking for patience while promising the people will get what they paid for through the program.

“The people have paid for this program and we’re going to see that it gets done,” Raiford added.

Raiford tells WAFB depending on how long the stay home order lasts, it could take as long as about eight months to determine the full impact the plan will face.

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