Officials appeal to voters to fund Health Unit

Published 12:11 am Wednesday, March 16, 2016

RESERVE — St. John the Baptist Parish voters are being asked next month to renew a millage that helps fund the St. John Parish Health Unit to the tune of more than $430,000 a year, parish officials said.

The proposition calls for the continuance of a .96 mills tax for 10 years, beginning in 2018, which generates $434,790 annually, according to Parish President Natalie Robottom.

For the 2017 budget, Robottom said, parish leaders need to know what type of revenue to expect.

“We don’t anticipate the renewable failing, but if it does, we have another election in November to put it up for the people,” she said. “The Health Unit has its own budget in our Parish’s budget. If not renewed, it would severely impact the budget. The majority of revenue for the Health Unit is generated through this millage. They provide many, many services like immunizations, TB prevention and our sanitarian is housed there who deals with the testing of our water.”

Robottom said revenue from the millage goes towards paying two employees the Parish funds, as well as maintenance, utilities, supplies and equipment.

She stressed this is not a tax the health unit can afford to lose.

“We can’t provide these services without the tax being in place,” she said. “Without this millage, there would be very little money to keep the Health Unit open. This is a crucial service to our residents that has been in existence for many, many years. It’s open to all of our residents. With there being no hospital, we have emergency care and physicians offices, but the Health Unit meets a very critical need for many of our residents.”

According to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, the millage is part of a local, state and federally funded partnership for a local Public Health Unit, which houses services for parish residents, including environmental health, food safety and sanitation, disease control, immunizations, Tuberculosis prevention, Medicaid eligibility and vital statistics.

Region 3 Administrator and Medical Director William Riggins said the thought of a Health Unit only servicing low-income families is a misnomer.

“Most of our programs serve the entire community, regardless of income. We care about population health, which is the health of everyone,” he said.

Riggins said services provided by health units fill the gap in health care when patients are healthy through immunizations, screenings and reproductive health.

“Our services are there for wellness and preventative services,” he said. “We don’t really do primary care in the sense that we don’t treat chronic disease or things you might have with your family doctor.”

The St. John Parish Health Unit is located at 473 Central Avenue in Reserve and is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Next month’s tax election is April 9, and early voting runs from March 26 through April 2, not including March 27 because it is a Sunday.

The current millage began in 2008 and, if approved, the continuance of the .96 mills tax begins in 2018.

A millage is tax put on real and personal property, according to the St. John the Baptist Parish Assessor’s office. Real property is considered land and buildings, while personal property would be computer equipment and similar items.

Information provided by the Assessor’s office indicated a millage of .96 on a $150,000 home would cause the owner to pay $7.20 annually. For a home valued at $300,000, the .96 millage would generate $21.60 in taxes.

According to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, the Parish provides two full-time caseworker assistants who, together with six state workers.

Communications Director Bob Johannessen said St. John Health Unit’s 2015 fiscal budget is $1.5 million, with $1.28 million coming from federal funds that support the services and $152,000 in state contributions.

He said the Health Unit generates almost $30,000 annually, and the remainder of the $1.5 million coming from interagency transfers.