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Health unit rededication tax decision heads to voters

LAPLACE — An existing millage approved by voters in 2016 has accumulated a surplus of funding for the Public Health Unit in Reserve, and Saturday’s ballot gives St. John the Baptist Parish voters a voice in deciding how extra funds are spent.

Parish government proposes $90,000 of the $434,000 accumulated annually on the 10-year millage be directed to a broader purpose of serving health services in St. John the Baptist Parish, namely mental health assessments, autopsies and mosquito control.

The millage is currently dedicated to maintaining and operating the St. John Parish Public Health Unit located at 473 Central Avenue in Reserve.

Annual expenses including administrative fees, total about $320,000 annually, Parish President Natalie Robottom said, adding the number has grown slightly but remained relatively steady from year-to-year.

Natalie Robottom

Services offered to the public through the public health unit include immunizations, family planning, applications for women, infants and children (WIC) nutrition services, STD testing, pregnancy testing, vital records, acknowledgement of paternity forms and seasonal flu shots.

The fund balance for the Public Health unit totals approximately $1.4 million.

“We estimate transferring $50,000 to Mosquito Control and $40,000 to the Coroner’s budget,” Robottom said.

“The additional funds will offset the Coroner’s expenses for mental health assessments and autopsies and will assist with the shortfall for current mosquito services, specifically funding expanded encephalitis surveillance.”

According to Steve Pavolovich, general manager of Mosquito Control, encephalitis is brain inflammation linked to West Nile virus and other mosquito borne viruses.

“In 2018, we’ve seen a very active encephalitis season throughout not just St. John Parish, but the state of Louisiana and the Gulf South,” Pavolovich said.

“It’s more active than it’s been since 2011 and 2012. We’ve had to do a lot more effort to spray areas and suppress disease transmission mosquitoes.”

Spraying is one of many ways Mosquito Control targets mosquitoes, Pavolovich said, noting crews are regularly sent out to target breeding sites and set traps. According to Pavolovich, the Parish requires additional funding to fully cover services already being offered.

“The costs and so forth of Mosquito Control are going to remain the same, but it’s a matter of how the funds are pulled in and directed to continue services,” Pavolovich said.

St. John the Baptist Parish coroner Christy Montegut said the 2018 Coroner’s Office budget did not account for an influx of 200 to 300 mental health evaluations per month.

Dr. Christy Montegut

Mental health evaluations, a new practice for the Coroner’s Office, became a requirement when the LaPlace River Place Behavioral Health Psychiatric Care facility opened in November 2017. Each patient is required by state law to undergo examination.

“We have had a tremendous number of examinations, and we anticipate this expenditure will continue to grow in the future,” Montegut said.

“The rededication would definitely benefit residents because we have a lot of residents requiring psychiatric care. We’ve also had more expenses in death notices and autopsies this year, but that can vary year to year.”

If the rededication passes with a majority vote Saturday, it will go into effect immediately.

If the rededication is not approved, the full $434,000 will continue to be directed to the Public Health Unit each year.

The rededication does not add a new tax; residents will continue to contribute to the .96 millage, which the Assessor’s Office equated to $7.20 annually on a $150,000 home in 2016.

Election Day voting is from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday.