Voters in Jefferson Parish will go to the polls Saturday, April 2, in special elections for assessor and at-large council member. In addition, voters in Kenner will decide the fate of six property tax proposals. All of these elections are important, and we urge our readers in Jefferson to take time out this Saturday to cast their ballots.
Historically, Gambit does not endorse assessor candidates. We have long advocated a system of appointed rather than elected assessors, and therefore we do not put our name behind any candidate for assessor in any parish. Elsewhere on the ballot, we make the following recommendations:
Kenner Propositions — FOR
Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni inherited a troubling fiscal situation in Louisiana's seventh-largest city when he took office less than a year ago. In recent years, Kenner's tax base has both shrunk and fluctuated wildly based on sales taxes, oil prices and other unstable factors. At the same time, overall property taxes in Kenner are significantly lower than those in unincorporated Metairie — even though property owners in Kenner get two tax bills every year. The total millage in Kenner is less than 83 mills; the total millage in Metairie is almost 103 mills. In Gretna, another municipality in Jefferson Parish, the total millage is more than 106 mills. At a minimum, Kenner residents are not over-taxed.
At the same time, Kenner faces growing costs for maintaining and improving police and fire protection, upgrading its substandard sewerage system (which is under a federal administrative order after years of Clean Water Act violations), and continuing adequate garbage collection services. Since taking office last summer, Yenni has cut the city budget by more than $5 million by eliminating positions, freezing pay and reducing waste at all levels.
To address current and future needs, Mayor Yenni and Police Chief Steve Caraway are asking voters to approve six propositions that would increase Kenner's allowable millage by 18 mills for the next 10 years. Here's a closer look at each proposition:
• Proposition 1 is a new 8-mill tax to underwrite police operations with dedicated funds for fuel, personnel, utilities, jail maintenance and the police station. Kenner currently has no dedicated millage for police protection.
• Proposition 2 is a new 4-mill tax for police buildings and equipment, including patrol cars, protective vests, guns and ammunition, uniforms, rain gear and other items.
• Proposition 3 would renew an existing 1.14-mill tax for sewerage operations and maintenance, including debt service on current and anticipated bonds for needed improvements.
• Proposition 4 would renew 2.4 mills for garbage collection and disposal.
• Proposition 5 would renew 11.4 mills for fire department operations. Kenner's fire rating has fallen significantly in recent years and is threatened with yet another downgrade — which drives home insurance costs much higher. By approving this proposition, Kenner residents could actually lower their homeowner insurance bills.
• Proposition 6 would levy 2 new mills for fire department buildings and equipment. The department currently operates with trucks that are up to 30 years old and not up to the task of protecting a modern city.
Even if all six propositions are approved — and we urge Kenner voters to approve all six of them — Kenner's total millage would still be lower than that of Metairie.
Roberts for Council-at-Large
Jefferson voters will choose a new at-large council member in a special election to succeed John Young, whom voters elected parish president last year. Of the two candidates on the ballot, we recommend District 1 Councilman Chris Roberts.
In recent years, Jefferson Parish has been rocked by scandal. An ongoing federal investigation has only begun to scratch the surface, and voters are rightly disillusioned by what appears to be a pattern of insider deals.
At the same time, parish government needs qualified, experienced leaders who know how to get things done to move Jefferson forward. We believe Roberts offers voters the best chance for that kind of leadership. Although he and Young have disagreed in the past, both men know that voters demand higher standards going forward, and both men in recent months have worked toward restoring voters' trust in parish government. Roberts helped find a permanent source of financing for Young's proposed inspector general's office. We believe his thorough understanding of parish finances will serve citizens well.