St. John assessor wants ‘truth’
Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 3, 2008
By KEVIN CHIRI
Editor and Publisher
LAPLACE – St. John Parish Assessor Whitney Joseph said he has tried to stay out of the controversial matter of whether the town of Garyville will become incorporated or not.
But now, Joseph says, he feels he has to speak up due to what he claims is too much misinformation and misleading statements that are becoming public.
“All I want is for the truth to be told about the incorporation, so the people know what they are getting if they vote for it,” the St. John assessor said. “And the truth is that taxes will go up if Garyville incorporates.”
Joseph spoke about the matter from his office, shaking one particular recent flyer that had been circulated in the Garyville area, and had “NO NEW TAXES!” in large, bold letters on the flyer. However no attribution was put on the flyer to show where it had come from.
“This is the kind of stuff that gets me upset,” Joseph said. “This is just not true. If Garyville incorporates, the taxes will go up, and people need to know that.”
He was also upset with Garyville Incorporation Committee Chairperson Geri Baloney, who was quoted in Wednesday’s L’Observateur claiming that Joseph had said the Garyville residents already got their fair share of services from the parish for the taxes they pay.
“I never said anything like that, and I would like her to tell me where she heard me say that,” Joseph demanded. “I live out in that area. The people of Garyville voted for me, and I have many friends in Garyville. Why would I make a statement like that to make people mad? I never said anything of the sort.”
(See TRUTH, page 3A)
On Wednesday, Baloney clarified her original statement, but stood by it, saying she got the information second hand, although it was still attributed to Joseph.
“I actually was told that from someone else, who said they had a shoutout with Whitney, and that’s when he said it,” Baloney said.
Baloney said the information came from a reputable local attorney who asked to remain anonymous. The incident came in a local office, and also involved the father of the attorney, L’Observateur was told.
Joseph also took issue with Baloney’s comment that the Garyville-Mt. Airy area is having “taxation without representation.”
Joseph called that completely untrue.
“How can she say that?” her asked. “All the people there have a School Board, a Parish Council, an assessor, a sheriff, a parish president. You may not like who you have, and if you don’t, you should vote them out. But they all have representation for the taxes they pay.”
Joseph said the main reason he is against the incorporation of Garyville is because it will mean the people will pay double for the services they are going to get.
“Right now the people there have all the parish services, but if they incorporate, they will pay double for those same services,” he said. “And I personally think Garyville gets a fair amount of parish services, just like everyone else gets. Can we do better? Sure. I think the parish can always improve what it is doing for everyone, but the people there currently have sewer, garbage pickup, water, police protection and all the parish services. But if they incorporate, they will pay double for those services.”
Baloney continued to disagree with the parish assessor about the “no new taxes” position, even though state law definitely says the new municipality can immediately levy a 7 mill property tax, without any vote of the public officials.
“The reason there won’t be more taxes is because the parish will be forced to reduce its millage, since a new town is in place, which will compensate for the 7 mills,” she said. “And our municipality will grant a tax exemption on some things for seniors.”
Joseph said that current numbers show the proposed Garyville town boundaries would only include $9 million of taxable residential property, while there is $128 million of taxable commercial property, although the vast majority of that is the local industry. At the heart of the debate about the incorporation continues to be whether that industry will be part of the town, since those industries claim they have exemptions which they filed for and were approved for decades ago. That question is currently in the courts.
As for what led to the incorporation move, Joseph said he does believe he understands why many people in that area of the parish seem frustrated and unhappy with the status quo.
“There is so much industry dumped on those people there, and it affects their property taxes, or they might not be getting all the best industry jobs, so they are frustrated,” he explained. “So yes, I know why people want something done. But incorporation is not the answer. I just don’t want to see people have to pay double for the services they are already getting right now. They have already been dumped on over the years with all this industry, and now they might get extra taxes dumped on them if they incorporate. I just don’t think it’s the right thing to solve the problem.”