3 taxes will go before voters

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 1, 2000

ERIK SANZENBACH / L’Observateur / July 1, 2000

LAPLACE – The voters of St. John Parish will have three sales taxreferendums to decide on come October.

By an overwhelming vote Thursday, the St. John Parish School Boarddecided to hold a special election Oct. 7 to ask voters to approve a 1/4cent sales tax increase to fund a salary increase for teachers.

The ballot on Oct. 7 will be crowded with tax referendums. The St. Johnsheriff is proposing a 1/4 cents sales tax to pay for new deputies and maintain the salaries of other officers, and the St. John Parish Council isasking for a 1/4 cents sales tax to fund the parish court system.

If all three taxes are approved by voters, residents of St. John Parish willbe paying 8 3/4 percent sales tax.

Sheriff’s tax St. John Parish Sheriff Wayne L. Jones announced Tuesday he will call fora special election Oct. 7 to ask the voters to approve an increase of thesales tax to 1/4 cent.

Citing increasing costs and the need for more manpower, Jones said the increased tax is needed to maintain the present level of law enforcement.

“We have seen a real reduction in crime,” said Jones. “We want to maintainthat, and that is why we are asking for this.”Several years ago the sheriff was able to hire 14 more officers because of a federal program called the Universal Hiring Grant. Under the program thefederal government paid 75 percent of the officer’s training and salary and the sheriff’s office picked up the other 25 percent.

The grants are soon to run out. In December Jones will have to absorb thecost for six of the officers hired under the grant and the remaining eight officers will lose the grant next June.

In order to keep these officers on the street, Jones will need the $1.1million that will be raised by the increased sales tax.

“It is crucial that we have enough men on the street,” said Jones.

He said the money raised by the sales tax will be more than enough to take care of these 14 officers plus will allow him to hire eight additional officers over the next 24 months.

As an example, he said that right now there is only one officer who patrols the Cambridge subdivision. There has been an increase in activityin that neighborhood, and he would like to put more officers in the area.

He also cited that with the construction of the new jail there was also an increase in the number of correctional officers. In July 1995 the jailemployed 155 employees, and that has jumped to 200 in the past two years.

Jones said he would also like to give a raise to his correctional employees. Right now they make $1,350 a month, and he would like toraise that to $1,550 a month.

Jones said this is the first tax increase his office has asked for since Sheriff Lloyd Johnson called for a millage election back in 1981. Johnsongot the voters to approve a 15 mill increase at the time.

Parish tax The St. John Parish Council voted unanimously Tuesday to call a specialelection to raise the sales tax by 1/4 cent.

The parish finds itself in a financial bind because of a state mandate that all parishes must fund their own court systems. Last year the parish paidout over $1.1 million to finance the courts, and that included theextremely high-profile and expensive murder trial of convicted serial killer Daniel Blank. As a result, the fund for the court system is severelydepleted.

Jeff Clement, chief financial officer for the parish, said court costs have gone way up in the past three years.

“In 1996 court costs were about $700,000,” said Clement. “Last year wespent over $1 million.”Council President Duaine Duffy said,”This is an issue brought on by the criminal justice system, but it is something we have to cover, and we will cover it.”Hugh Martin, bond attorney for the council, said the 1/4 cent sales tax would raise $1 million for the court system plus the parish will still draw about $500,000 from the general fund for other costs like construction and big capital trials.

Right now the parish is paying the entire cost of the court system from the general fund.

Councilman Job Boucvalt told the council, “We have to tell the people that the courts are being funded by the general fund and that if we don’t replace it other important services will suffer.”However, Cleveland Farlough warned, “This will hurt the little person the most.”Parish President Nickie Monica told the council that the administration backs the referendum.

School board tax School board member Clarence Triche brought up the issue at the last board meeting, but it was shot down. He had first proposed a 1/2 centssales tax.

On Thursday, Triche changed his motion to a 1/4 cents sales tax.

“If a family has $10,000 in disposable income per year, asking them to pay $25 a year for good teachers really is nothing,” Triche told the board.

Triche’s concern is with the number of qualified teachers who are in the parish school system. Saying that other parishes and other states areluring our certified teachers away, Triche said we have got to do something to keep good teachers in the parish.

“If you want the best,” Triche said, “you have to start with the best and that means getting certified teachers. Back when things were good weused to have only one uncertified teacher in the system. Now we have toomany.”The 1/4 cent increase in the sales tax will give each certified teacher a raise of $2,000.

“It won’t do a whole lot,” admitted Triche, “but it will bring us up to number 15 from number 29 in the state. We can start drawing in peoplewith a good salary.”Superintendent Chris Donaldson backed up Triche.

“We have 80 teaching positions open right now,” Donaldson told the board.

“And most teachers are going out of state. We have to start paying ourteachers a good salary.”Out-going board president Richard DeLong mused, “If this country can spend millions of dollars to send Elian back to Cuba, we sure can afford to spend some money on our teachers. I aggressively support this.”C.J. Watkins agreed that a tax is needed but cautioned the other boardmembers that a definition of a teacher needed to be reached before they could put the motion on the ballot.

“What is the definition of a teacher?” Watkins asked. “Classroom teachersinclude whom?” Board member Matt Ory had the same concerns. “Who will benefit overthis? We need to make it clear on who will get the teachers salary.”Board attorney John Diasselliss told the board, “Name the specific positions so you won’t have any misinterpretations.”Finally, Director of Finance Felix Boughton told the board, “The criteria is whoever is paid by the teacher’s salary schedule.”This includes certified teachers of kindergarten, elementary and high school, librarians, special education teachers, speech therapists and nurses that also teach and are certified.

Even so, Howie Gendron had misgivings about presenting the tax to the people. He was worried that with so many referendums, the voter mightnot want to vote for any of the tax increases.

“On the ballot,” he warned the board, “the referendum better be written real tight as to what a teacher is and where the money is going. We mustcover our employees.”John Crose summed up the rest of the board’s feelings when he said, “We have a lot of high-risk kids and a lot of technology. Yet, ironically, wecan’t get enough teachers. If this keeps going, the sheriff will really needthat sales tax to build a bigger prison.”The board voted 10-1 for the referendum with Gendron voting against the motion.

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