Sheriff, DA seek tax

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 14, 2005


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE — St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff Wayne L. Jones is proposing a criminal justice sales tax in the amount of a fourth of a cent to be voted on the July 16 election.

Jones said this tax would increase the current sales tax of 8.75 percent to 9 percent, which is as high as it can go, but for a well-deserved and good reason.

“The money will go to the criminal justice system and the sheriff’s office,” Jones said. “An eighth, which is around $700,000, will go to raising deputies’ salaries and the other eighth going to the District Attorney’s office, where Mr. Crum will be able to maintain and run his own budget.”

According to Jones the DA’s office currently operates with no tax and relies on the Parish Government (Council) to give him $450,000 to run his department.

“The other eight will go to relieve this,” Jones said. “By having $300,000 more in his office, his budget will be increased to $700,000. Mr. Crum will be giving the $450,000 back to the parish, and then they will be freed of the obligation of having to fund the DA’s office. That way the parish can have that money and do whatever they want with it.”

According to Jones, District Attorney John M. Crum plans to use the money also to maintain his experienced assistant DA’s, but also for programs for juveniles.

“He wants to do juvenile programs to catch them at an early age,” Jones said. “The programs will be used as intervention to help prevent future crimes.”

Jones said the last time he asked for a tax increase was in 2000, which started off as a proposal for a half-cent increase.

“I was contacted by the school board,” Jones said. “It was my understanding that the teachers needed some raises, and they asked if I would back off to a fourth of a cent. I agreed and it passes in favor 60/40.”

Jones said the money from the increase was around $1.1 million to $1.3 million and was used in a well manner.

“We had 12 officers on a federal grant,” Jones said. “The grant paid for 75 percent of their salaries and we paid 25 percent. In 2000, they no longer had the grant, so we had to pick up that 75 percent. We also hired eight additional officers in our patrol and our traffic division, because of the growth of the area. We had just opened a jail, and a concern was the pay for the staff in our corrections division, so their salaries were increased. Then we gave a $100 raise across the board to 225 officers, costing around $330,000.”

Jones said the starting monthly salary for a corrections officer was around $1,350 per month and they were able to increase the monthly salary to $1,750 per month, after post certification and two years of service.

“I have a lot of experienced officers, who are not getting paid what they are worth,” Jones said. “I am at the strongest I have ever been concerning police visibility and manpower. I want to maintain that. I’m trying to make their livelihood better during their law enforcement career.”

Jones said the 911 center is currently switching over to an all digital network and officers are going through training to learn how to use the equipment, which is also encrypted, so people can not find out what’s going on.

“This is sophisticated equipment,” Jones said. “The ones we had before were from 1987. The only thing keeping us going were 75 working radios we bought from a plant in Georgia. Communication is vital to law enforcement. We had to make a change, and we will be switching over to all digital on July 6. This was a $1.9 million expenditure. It is not a luxury. It is a necessity.”

According to Jones, the sales tax would not affect property owners, just sales where everybody pays, because everybody uses law enforcement services. If it did, it would only be around $6 extra a month for a household of four members, he said. The biggest concern was that someone else would go and try to get the last one-fourth cent and use it for something not as crucial to the community as this.

“I think this was the perfect time to do this,” Jones said. “It’s for the most important thing in the community. The public needs to understand though that this is not a separate vote, it will be a one vote, yes or no question.”

Jones said he would like the community to seriously consider this, so they can maintain what they have and continue to provide services to the Parish.

“I hope the community appreciates what the deputies are doing,” Jones said. “I won’t be going to them again for any type of sales increase as long as I am Sheriff. I just think it is an opportune time.”

According to Jones, their revenue would increase about $400,000 in their general fund. This would take care of the medical benefits the Sheriff’s Office pay for their employees running around $300,000 and the $100,000 exceeded in their budget due to rising fuel cost.

“We’ve come a long way with police visibility and involvement in the community,” Jones said. “Not only do I want to maintain what we are doing, but to even get better. I want above-average service for our community. I would never ask the people for something that were not warranted.”