Tax renewal for housing juvenile offenders passes

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 27, 2010

St. John the Baptist Parish voters have approved a 1-mill property tax renewal that pays for housing juvenile offenders.

The tax passed with 59 percent of the vote, 5,531 to 3,851.

This was the first time the 20-year-old tax was put before the voters. State legislators approved it in 1989 as a method for parishes to cover the cost of juvenile detention without a public vote. St. John officials levied a half-mill in 1990 and another half-mill in 1991 for housing juveniles.

The tax, which generated $294,000 in 2009 and could bring in as much as $350,000 in 2010, will be levied for another 20 years. There was no public opposition to the tax renewal, and it was endorsed by the River Region Chamber of Commerce.

When it was first approved money from the tax could be used only for the housing of juvenile offenders, but a revision made by the state Legislature last year now allows the funds to go toward renovations and maintenance at administrative buildings for juvenile probation officers, judges and counselors.

The change was made at the request of Former St. John Parish President Bill Hubbard, who lobbied lawmakers last summer to modify the tax so that it could help pay for the renovation of the parish’s juvenile services building in Reserve.

District Judge Mary Hotard Becnel and parish probation officers asked Hubbard, who resigned Sept. 24 after pleading guilty to soliciting and accepting bribes from parish contractors, for the renovations. Parish officials said the building has not gotten an upgrade since it was constructed in 1975.

The renovation project includes installing new sewer links, an expanded parking area and new meeting rooms. St. John acting Chief Administrative Officer Buddy Boe said the parish hired Southern Construction of Metairie for $207,995 in October, and remodeling work on the building began last month.

“The tax has produced a $750,000 surplus that we can pull from to fund the improvements,” Boe said. “The parish typically spends between $150,000 and $200,000 on housing juvenile offenders, so there will still be a substantial amount left in surplus.”

Hugh Martin, St. John Parish’s bond attorney, said the money brought in by the tax goes toward housing juvenile offenders at the St. James Parish Juvenile Detention Center or other juvenile detention centers across the area. St. John Parish does not have a facility to house juvenile offenders.