Voters in Jefferson Parish go to the polls Saturday, April 30, to decide the fate of several tax renewals. Unlike the recent property tax referendum in Kenner, which voters rejected overwhelmingly, the propositions on the ballot this Saturday would not substantially increase taxes. Three of the measures on the local ballot would provide for very small property tax increases in dedicated millages, but each increase would decline over time if the parish continues its long-standing practice of rolling back millage rates in the wake of quadrennial reassessments. Another proposition would renew an existing half-cent sales tax for public education. Gambit supports all four propositions.
Proposition 1 is a parishwide, 3.5-mill property tax for juvenile services. This tax currently funds the vast majority of the parish's Department of Juvenile Services operations as well as its facilities. The services to be funded by the renewal include juvenile probation services, the juvenile detention facility and prevention services that affect every youth and family in the juvenile justice system. Parish President John Young, who supports the measure, says the department is focused on "changing behaviors, reducing criminal activity and improving school performance."
The proposition would renew the current 2.91 mills and increase the millage rate by a scant 0.59 mills — to a total rate of 3.5 mills. While renewal of the tax would produce a marginal property tax increase — literally pennies a day for a typical homeowner — failure to renew the measure would leave the Department of Juvenile Services without a dedicated funding source. The nonpartisan Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR), which supports this measure, noted that without it the department's work would "fall to a thinly funded state office." In light of the growing juvenile crime problem across the metro area, voters would be foolhardy not to extend this dedicated tax. We urge our readers in Jefferson to vote for Proposition 1 on Saturday.
Proposition 2 is a 2.26-mill parishwide property tax for the Animal Shelter Department, the parish Human Services Authority and the Jefferson Parish Health Unit. Approval of this proposition would renew an existing 1.65 mills and increase it by .61 mills. The tax currently provides nearly 90 percent of the Animal Shelter's budget as well as state-mandated funding for the Human Services Authority and the parish health unit. Failure to renew this millage would put a severe strain on parish finances. This proposition has support from Young and BGR, and we add our endorsement as well.
The School Board's sales tax renewal contains no tax increase. This measure, which applies parishwide, merely extends for another 10 years an existing half-cent sales tax. That tax provides money for teacher and staff salaries, facility maintenance, debt service, classroom instruction and other educational purposes. Jefferson's sales tax rate currently stands at 8.75 percent. Renewing the tax would keep the rate at that level — and failure to renew it would deal a double blow to parish public schools by reducing local as well as matching state funding. We urge our readers to vote for renewal of the half-cent sales tax for education.
A third millage renewal proposition appears on the ballot everywhere in the parish except Grand Isle. It is a 5-mill drainage tax to fund the parish's share of projects in the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Program (SELA). The current millage rate for this dedicated purpose is 3.61 mills; renewal would add another 1.39 mills. Improved drainage is one of Jefferson Parish's biggest ongoing needs. In urging voters to support this measure, Young said, "Some of the major items funded by the SELA project include construction of two new pump stations on the West Bank, the expansion of two pump stations on the East Bank, and miles of canal improvements on both banks." Gambit likewise recommends voting for this proposition.
In the wake of Kenner voters' resounding defeat of six property tax propositions on April 2, many political observers took away the lesson that voters have no tolerance for tax hikes. Indeed, the Kenner propositions would have significantly raised property taxes there. By contrast, the measures on Saturday's ballot are merely extensions of existing taxes that, if approved, would increase millage rates only marginally — and the sales tax rate not at all. We urge our readers in Jefferson to approve these dedicated renewals.