Parish taxes will be discussed at 'Town Hall' meeting tonight

6 p.m. at LSU AgCenter in Mansura


   The Christmas season in Avoyelles Parish officially kicked off with the “Christmas Extravaganza” at the Paragon Casino Resort this past Saturday. Christmas parades will soon be winding their way down “Main Street” in several parish municipalities. Throughout the parish, people are expressing the “spirit of giving” -- and officials with the two parishwide elected boards are hoping that spirit carries into the polling places on Dec. 10.
   Representatives of the Avoyelles Parish Police Jury and the Avoyelles Parish School Board will hold a “Town Hall” meeting at the LSU AgCenter in Mansura at 6 p.m. Monday (Nov. 21) to discuss the parish taxes on the Dec. 10 ballot. The meeting will allow the public to ask questions, make comments and provide input as well as receive information from the two elected bodies presenting the taxes.
Police Jury taxes
   There have been some misconceptions and misunderstandings concerning the taxes. One big error was that many voters were expecting to cast their ballot for or against the taxes on Nov. 8. The tax propositions were always called for the “runoff” election in December.
    Another widespread mistake is that the Police Jury is seeking a parishwide sales tax for parish roads. It isn’t.
    The Police Jury has divided the parish into four road districts. Each district will have a property tax on the ballot within that district. A road commission composed of the police jurors from that area and other residents will decide the projects to be done with that district’s road tax revenue. Each district’s commission will also decide whether to address road needs on a pay-as-you-go basis, doing a few projects each year as the tax is collected, or sell bonds to do more projects quicker and pay off the bonds over the next 10 years.
   The key point of the Police Jury taxes is that the tax revenues can only be spent within the designated tax district. There can be no “sharing,” “lending” or “emergency expenditure” of one district’s tax revenue in another district. If voters in one road district approve their proposed tax and another district’s residents defeat their proposition, then roads in one district will have funds to address problems while the district that said “no” will not.
   However, the Police Jury’s current parishwide road funds will continue to be distributed just as they are now -- on an overall priority basis. An area that defeated its proposed road tax will not be given more parishwide road funds just because they have no other source of revenue while areas that approved their local tax do.
    Police Jury President Charles Jones said jurors have limited resources to address the maintenance, repair and improvement of parish roads, bridges and roadside drainage. 
    With the state and federal governments in financial trouble, there is not likely to be any additional road funds coming to the parish through those sources. The proposed property taxes attempt to benefit those residents paying the tax by restricting the use of the revenue to roads within that tax district. He said a parishwide tax would have been “easier,” and a parishwide sales tax may be “fairer,” but the jury has failed repeatedly when it has tried that.
    The jury’s track record gave rise to the joke:
Old Man 1: Nothing is certain except death and taxes.
Old Man 2: You’re not from Avoyelles Parish, are you? Death, yes. Taxes, not so much.
APSB sales tax
   The School Board is seeking a parishwide 1-percent sales tax dedicated to improving school district employees’ salaries. APSB officials contend the parish is last in the state in what it pays beginning teachers and is no longer competitive with neighboring parishes.
    The school district is proposing a different “3 R’s” for this tax -- “Recruit, Retain and Reward.”
    Higher salaries are needed to recruit new teachers to fill vacancies caused by retirement, career change or relocation.
   Salaries for teachers must be competitive -- especially with neighboring parishes within easy commuting distance -- to  help the district retain its teachers. If pay is too low, employees will either choose a new career that pays more or take a similar job in another school district that pays more.  
  For those teachers who call Avoyelles Parish home and want to help the children of this parish be prepared for the future, an improved salary schedule will reward them for their loyalty and dedication.
  The School Board may be as much a victim of its past success as the Police Jury is plagued by its past failures at the ballot box.
  The School Board currently collects 1.75 cents of sales tax. Another penny tax would give it 2.75 cents of sales tax.
  By comparison, the Police Jury has only 1 cent, with 3/4 of that dedicated to the parishwide solid waste collection/disposal program and 1/4 for parish road maintenance.
  Most municipalities have 1 cent of sales tax and a few collect 2 cents.
  Because the proposed 1-cent sales tax would put some municipalities above the state limit for local sales taxes, the School Board had to receive permission from the Legislature to call the tax. It received that permission.
   The state did not help the APSB’s cause when it imposed a 1-percent sales tax earlier this year to help defray its own budget woes.
   If the sales tax passes on Dec. 10, some municipalities will have a sales tax rate of 11.25 cents on the dollar -- 45 cents for every $4 spent on taxable items. 
United effort
   Jones said he is hoping for a united effort from parish and  school district employees to support both taxes in their communities in the upcoming weeks and on election day.
  Both taxes are important to the parish and its people, he said.
  “The School Board sales tax is needed for the school district employees’ salaries,” Jones said, “but if the school bus can’t get those little children to school because of the bad condition of the roads, it doesn’t matter how good the school is.
   “Both taxes are needed,” he continued. “I am hoping for a ‘Yes-Yes’ vote on Dec. 10.”