Bridge deficit climbs in 2008|Crossings, fees, taxes blamed for increase

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fewer rail cars crossing the Mississippi River at Vicksburg in fiscal 2008, higher fees paid to engineers and higher property taxes in Madison Parish combined to balloon the U.S. 80 bridge’s deficit last year to $180,756 this year, the bridge’s annual audit shows.

Overall, the five-member Vicksburg Bridge Commission, which approved the report Wednesday, received satisfactory marks from auditors at The Halford Firm.

“Your cash flow is down but your payables are back to normal. We found the documentation to be accurate,” said accountant Carol Gilbert.

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In its budget for 2008-09, the panel estimates $1.95 million in spending and $1.473 million in revenue, with $1.2 million expected from the railroad. The audit is a one-year snapshot. The bridge, owned by Warren County and operated as a break-even proposition, has money in reserve.

Railway tolls from Kansas City Southern Railway this year surpassed next year’s estimate by about $20,000. A total of 313,658 cars were counted for the year ending June 30, 2008, down from $1.3 million on 340,692 cars during the same period in 2007. Cars are counted by the railroad and reported to the commission monthly.

The totals reflect a per-car rate of $3.89, a nickel higher than the $3.84 average from fiscal 2007 — both short of $12-per-car rates billed by the commission for more than three years as a dispute over drafting a lease has been allowed to remain unresolved. A check received for July’s traffic totaled $86,977.75, which breaks down to just more than $3.27 a car. Audits, including the one approved Wednesday, have described the situation as one of economic dependence.

Security cameras funded by parts of a $50,000 Department of Homeland Security grant were also reflected on the ledger’s plus side.

Superintendent Herman Smith said $35,327.24 in extra revenue arrived in August. More than $5,300 was in damages from towboat companies involved in five strikes from barges during this spring’s flooding on the Mississippi River. Another $30,000 arrived from Gulf South Pipeline for rent on two transmission lines running on bridge property.

Work to replace bearings and reposition wind shear devices on pier 2, the first large support pier from the Mississippi bank, and stabilization to bulkheads on the Mississippi side cost the commission $70,000 more than paid to engineers over last year.

Shreveport-based Shiloh Construction is expected to start preliminaries on the pier 2 job in about two weeks, officials said, with only moderate incision of the pier needed. Costs for that and the stabilization work, put off until well into next year, is pegged at more than $1.4 million.

Interest income from bank accounts held by the commission dropped due to falling rates. Taxes to the Village of Delta and higher parish millage rates raised total taxes paid for the past fiscal year by about $7,000. Spending on office and communications equipment upgrades increased $3,299 in the past year. Fuel and oil for pickups used by bridge employees increased nearly $2,000.