Voters approve quarter-cent sales tax for St. John Parish firefighters

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 7, 2003

By LEONARD GRAY-Staff Reporter

EDGARD – For once, it was the public turning out in force to help firefighters. On Saturday, an overwhelming majority of those who turned out to vote supported a quarter-cent sales tax to fund paid firefighters departments asked the parish council to evaluate the proposal of adding paid firefighters to each department.

Those firefighters will be working during daylight hours, relieving the strain from the all-volunteer corps dealing with a barrage of 911 calls, traffic accidents and other emergencies.

However, the new paid responders will likely not be on duty until November, at the earliest.

The vote was 70.71 percent in favor and 29.29 percent against the proposal, or 1,975 to 818 votes.

According to Registrar of Voters Betty Madere, that’s approximately 10.3 percent of the registered voters total of 26,904. In another way of looking at it, the 1,975 who voted likely included most of the parish’s 120 firefighters and their families and friends.

Meanwhile, the process is under way to determine when the sales tax revenue will become available, while the tax increase gets the final approval from the parish council and the state.

At the same time, the fire departments will be planning, advertising, hiring and training the paid firefighters, to include 12 for LaPlace, Reserve will have five, and Edgard and Garyville which each have four paid firefighters.

“Now the real work begins,” noted the parish director of civil defense, Paul Oncale, who also estimated the new paid responders will likely be ready for work in November, since it is already too late to get the legal machinery in place to collect the tax in the third quarter, starting in July.

Therefore, the tax will not start being collected until the fourth quarter, starting in October, and those revenues not available until November, Oncale explained.

The volunteers are ready for the help. Garyville Chief Faron “Slim” Duhe noted, “I’m going to be able to sleep at night and not be a nervous wreck at work, wondering who’s going to respond.”

He recalled when he began as a firefighter, fires were the bulk of the work. Now, the volunteers are called upon for fires, rescues, hazardous materials incidents and train for homeland security possibilities.

Also on the up side, fire insurance premiums should improve, with paid firefighters on staff, giving every homeowner a boost, besides the improved response time to emergencies, as the paid responders will already be at the stations.