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L’OBSERVATEUR editorial: Health unit millage surplus raises concern

St. John the Baptist Parish Council members and Parish administrators seemed to unanimously agree this week that it is in local residents’ best interests to rededicate tax revenue earmarked for the health unit to a more expansive purpose — “medical and public health facilities and services in the parish.”

The Council unanimously agreed to take the change to local voters, without anyone voicing a concern over the money management.

Parish leaders say cases of confirmed West Nile Virus in local mosquitoes are on the rise, forcing more expenditure in the fight to combat this public health concern.

Increasing costs of autopsies was also cited.

The current budgets for those services don’t meet demand, forcing Parish administrators to look elsewhere for funding.

The proposed solution is taking money from a dedicated health unit tax and using some of it to fund West Nile response and autopsy costs.

Parish leaders say our Health Unit services won’t suffer and increased taxes won’t be needed to fund jumps in mosquito response and autopsy service.

We commend local leaders for suggesting creative solutions for unforeseen costs.

However, we question how the health unit tax revenue surplus came into being.

On Tuesday, Parish Council members were told the existing Health Unit Tax — accumulated through a .96 millage — was collecting more than what is traditionally used or needed.

That doesn’t quite jive with what Parish leadership told voters in early 2016, when it was said the entire .96 millage was needed to support Health Unit services.

To our knowledge, there weren’t any elected leaders who suggested St. John roll the tax down two years ago from .96 mills, but today they all seem to agree .96 mills is excessive for the Health Unit’s needs.

Our question is, had the Parish not needed additional funds to battle West Nile and autopsy costs, would local residents still be asked to pay for this excessive Health Unit tax?