St. Tammany voters face three school propositions and a fire tax renewal

The St. Tammany Parish School District is asking voters to approve three propositions on the May 4 ballot that Superintendent Trey Folse says are aimed at meeting the district’s financial challenges without adding to property owners’ tax burden.

Voters in Madisonville will also decide in next month’s election whether to renew a property tax for St. Tammany Fire Protection District No. 2 that’s used for operations and maintenance costs.

Folse said that the school system is facing the rising cost of health insurance — $39 million in additional costs since 2007 — and state-mandated retirement cost increases of $24 million since 2010. At the same time, he said, state funding has stagnated with no growth factor in the state Minimum Foundation Program in the last four years.

Proposition 1 asks voters for permission to issue 20-year bonds, not exceeding $135 million, that will be repaid by property taxes, to improve and buy land for school buildings and playgrounds.

Folse said that the money would help with school security initiatives and technology improvements.

Proposition No. 2 would rededicate the $5.7 million generated by an existing 3.44-mill property tax to the operation and maintenance of school facilities and to salaries.

Currently, revenue raised by that millage can be used only for reroofing, painting, plumbing and other construction repairs. This rededication will mean that the money will have a more direct impact on students, according to the administration.

Proposition No. 3 is a 10-year, 3-mill property tax that would generate $5 million annually and would be used to support the school system, including salaries and benefits. While it is a new tax, Folse said the total millage paid by St. Tammany Parish property owners — about 68.18 mills — will remain unchanged because the St. Tammany Parish School Board voted recently to reduce another property tax by 3 mills.

Folse said he’s been meeting with business and community groups to generate support for the propositions. In those presentations, he said, he points to steps that have been taken to meet the financial crunch, including the decision to leave 197 positions unfilled, to forgo step increases for employees and to reduce other costs, like sabbaticals.

The NorthShore Business Council has given the propositions its endorsement.

St. Tammany Fire Protection No. 2 is seeking the renewal of a 10-year, 20.62-mill property tax that generates $3 million annually and it used to operate and maintain facilities and equipment for the Madisonville fire district.

Commissioner Myron Bourg said that the Fire Protection District No. 2 Board of Commissioners wants to build a new fire station off La. 22. The existing station, which is in a building owned by the town, has flooded in the recent hurricanes, forcing the district to move to temporary quarters while repairs are made and then back.

The money also will pay for equipment and to support the fire district, he said.