Timing of tax election prompting concerns
BY DAVID J. MITCHELL
River Parishes bureau
July 05, 2012
It appears Ascension Parish voters will be confronted on the Nov. 6 ballot with only one of two proposed, sizeable tax increases aimed at addressing long-standing needs.
A half-cent sales tax for roads — a tax that has been bandied about for years as population has grown and roads have become more and more clogged — is headed to the Nov. 6 ballot, which includes the presidential election.
The Ascension Parish Council voted June 21 to put that tax on that ballot, but at the same meeting the council pulled from the agenda an item on proposed taxes and fees for parish Fire Protection District No. 1.
The fire district, which contains six largely volunteer fire departments on Ascension’s east bank serving 63 percent of the parish’s population, is seeking a 15-mill property tax, a $32 annual residential parcel fee and a $100 annual commercial parcel fee.
On a $150,000 house with a homestead exemption, the 15-mill tax would cost an additional $112.50 per year.
The proposed dedicated taxes would create a paid force and upgrade fire stations and equipment needed because the booming east bank population has resulted in higher call volumes and stressed volunteers, parish officials have said.
Parish Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee has argued that the proposed Fire District No. 1 taxes should be on the Nov. 6 ballot because of the high turnout expected for the presidential race.
Satterlee would rather the tax not get on the potentially lower-turnout Dec. 8 ballot because of his concern about the low turnout for a fire tax election last year in the area he represents.
Fire Protection District No. 3, which serves the Prairieville area, won a new 10-mill, 10-year property tax by 102-vote margin. With only a special election runoff for Sorrento mayor on the April 2, 2011, ballot in Ascension, the tax passed 414 to 312 with a 3.7 percent turnout.
Fire District No. 1 fire officials have said they are seeking the Dec. 8 ballot, which also may also include renewals for property taxes for six parish lighting districts that expire at the end of the year, because they are concerned they would not be able to prepare the tax resolution in time and meet other deadlines.
“We felt we would be a lot more confident if we stayed with December than November,” Bill Dawson told Satterlee during a June 14 council Finance Committee meeting.
Dawson led a committee of fire officials who developed the Fire District No. 1 proposal.
The council agreed to delay a vote on the issue until next month, when the tax resolution is supposed to be ready.
Unstated in any of these discussions — be it Satterlee’s concern for higher voter turnout or fire officials’ concern about getting the bond resolution done in time — is the chance that putting two new taxes on one ballot can be a recipe for one or both not passing.
Satterlee, however, may have one more opportunity to press his point.
The council’s next regular meeting is July 5 in Donaldsonville, pending any change for the Fourth of July holiday. That might provide a window of opportunity to submit an application by July 18, the deadline to submit an application for the August agenda of the state Bond Commission, the last meeting for getting a tax election on the Nov. 6 ballot.
David J. Mitchell covers Ascension Parish government for The Advocate. He can be reached at email@example.com.