St. John sheriff trying tax hike again

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 4, 2013

By Kimberly Hopson

LAPLACE – With the Oct. 19 primary inching closer, St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff Mike Tregre hopes his second attempt at a tax hike will stick.
“This quarter-cent sales tax will be dedicated to salaries, manpower and crime cameras,” he said.
The proposed tax jump would cost residents less than $40 a year, according to financial officers at the department. The St. John Parish Sheriff’s Department currently operates with a budget of $23 million. The cost is a relatively small sum that Tregre analogized to the price of a loaf of bread.
“A loaf of bread, what does it cost now? That loaf of bread will cost you one penny more after Oct. 19,” said Tregre.
In April, nearly 60 percent of voters gave the thumbs down to the proposed quarter-cent tax increase, which would have generated about $2 million in revenue for the law enforcement agency. Tregre said he has since appealed to the public for feedback on his prior attempt and is implementing what he learned to try again next month.
Tregre attributes the initial failure to being in the wrong place at the wrong time because Gov. Bobby Jindal had just begun peddling his now-scrapped 6.25 percent sales tax increase. He also said that many residents did not know anything about the increase. Residents also informed him that his last pitch had no renewal date. Taking the suggestion, Tregre has added a 10-year renewal date to the most recent proposal.
Tregre said he would like to place cameras at most major intersections, the entrances to subdivisions and areas where crime activity is most prevalent. The cameras range from $2,000 to $20,000, depending on its capabilities. The department currently utlizes about 45 crime cameras, some of which they have to monitor weather conditions and water levels.
If the tax passes, Tregre plans to hire eight new officers immediately. The sheriff said it would be ideal to have at least 20 officers on duty per shift, though the department currently averages approximately 12 to 14 officers per shift in the patrol division. The tax would also support more generous salaries, merit raises and allow for the department to absorb pension costs. The department as a whole is staffed with 255 employees.
“I’m spread thin, but the front line has to be patrol. They’re the ones that’re out here working these shifts, the most visible. I have to build them up. I just want to remain to the point where I think we are competitive throughout the state,” he said.
The sheriff hopes that better compensation would draw more talent to the area. St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office salaries currently begin at $2,063 monthly for the correctional division, and $2,475 for patrol, though Tregre said all wages vary depending on the amount of training, years of service, experience and/or certifications.
Tregre said he plans to do much more public campaigning for the tax increase this time around, even going so far as to use direct mailouts in conjunction with his usual rounds of public appearances. For more information about the upcoming election, visit