Officials present tax plans at ‘Town Hall’ meeting on proposed parish taxes


    Officials with Avoyelles’ two parishwide governing bodies summed up the case for tax propositions on the Dec. 10 ballot succinctly.
    The parish roads are bad and they will only get worse if there is insufficient money to pay for necessary maintenance and repairs.
    There are too many substitute teachers in the classrooms and that number will only increase if the parish teacher salaries cannot compete with neighboring parishes.
  Approximately 50 people, including some police jurors and School Board members, attended a “Town Hall” meeting to discuss the Police Jury’s four road districts’ property tax propositions and the School Board’s 1-percent sales tax to improve school district employees’ salaries and benefits.
Preaching to the choir
   Walter T. Rogers of Cocoville, a retired school district supervisor, told Police Jury President Charles Jones and APSD Superintendent Blaine Dauzat they “are preaching to the choir” at the Town Hall.
   “Those you need to talk to are the ones who stayed home tonight,” Rogers said. 
   “I will be 71 next month,” Rogers continued. “When I was 21, I walked up the courthouse steps and registered to vote. I have never missed going to the precinct on election day.”
   In those 50 years of voting, Rogers said “I have never not voted for a tax,” he said. “However, I know people who have never ever voted for a tax just because it might cost them a penny out of their pocket. That’s sad.”
   Lance Dauzat of Fifth Ward expressed concern over the already high sales tax rate in the parish. He said that while the parish property tax burden is low, he does not want the parish to start the process of having one of the highest property tax rates.
    “Where will it end,” he asked.
    Jones said the parish has 450 miles of road to maintain. About 150 miles are dirt and gravel roads. There are 126 bridges on parish roads, with 65 of those being high-maintenance timber bridges. In addition, the Police Jury “has 900 miles of drainage ditches in the parish. That’s about the distance from here to Chicago.”
    Jones said the Police Jury has divided the parish into four road districts, with each district having about the same tax value.
   Road District 1 is Ward 2, including Marksville. Road District 2 is Wards 6, 7, 8 and 11, including Simmesport, Moreauville and Plaucheville. 
   Road District 3 is Wards 1, 3, 4 and 5, including Mansura and Hessmer. Road District 4 is Wards 9 and 10, including Bunkie, Cottonport and Evergreen.
road commission
   Each district’s tax will generate between $800,000 and $900,000 a year. The decision on which projects to fund will be made by a road commission that includes the police jurors in that district and several citizens willing to serve on that board, Jones continued.
   The commission will also decide whether to spend the tax proceeds on a pay-as-you-go basis that uses each year’s tax receipts to do work that year or with a bond issue that would allow more projects to be done sooner and use the tax proceeds to pay off the bonds.
    Blaine Dauzat said he has heard a lot of reasons to vote against the school district’s sales tax, with almost all of them based on false information.
   “There is only one reason to vote against this tax,” Dauzat said. “Sales tax is already high. We can’t dispute that. If this tax passes, Marksville and Bunkie will have among the highest sales tax in the state.”
    There are many more reasons to vote for the tax, the superintendent noted. 
   Avoyelles’ starting salary for teachers is the lowest in the state, and its average teacher salary places it around 60 out of the 73 public school districts.
   “There is a teacher shortage in America,” Dauzat said. “It will be worse in Louisiana because of lower salaries here. If it is bad in Louisiana, it will be worse in Avoyelles with the lowest starting salary.”
    Dauzat said that even with the $5,500 raise to teachers to be provided by the proposed sales tax, parish teachers’ salaries will not even be at the state average.
“I had a teacher in my office the other day who is from Avoyelles Parish and loves teaching here, but she can make $9,500 more a year to drive just a few miles down the road,” Dauzat said. “I can’t blame her.”
Cannot compete
   He said the school system is making improvements in its academic performance, and in those classes with a certified teacher there are good results. The problem is too many uncertified teachers or substitute teachers in the classrooms.
   That cannot be avoided if the parish cannot compete in recruiting new teachers and retaining its experienced teachers.
   He said the sales tax will cost the average taxpayer about $143 a year.
   “We are asking people to make education a priority, Dauzat said.
   Jones said Avoyelles Parish is in need of economic development efforts. It has had some setbacks with a promised manufacturing plant backing out and an interested industry deciding to locate elsewhere.
   He said an industry looking to relocate or expand its operations “conducts extensive research, gathering information on an area, before they make a decision.”
   Two key elements in that decision are education and infrastructure. These tax propositions address both of those issues, Jones said.
  Although there is no guarantee that a major industry will locate in Avoyelles Parish if these taxes are approved, “all I can say is that we have to start somewhere,” he said. “We have to have good schools and we need solid infrastructure in this parish.”