Official says consensus unlikely on fire tax revenue
By Terry L. Jones
June 23, 2012
The debate over how fire sales tax revenues should be divided among the six fire subdistricts in West Baton Rouge Parish has heated up as officials try to find an amicable compromise.
The mayors of Addis and Brusly said last week they are willing to take any action necessary — legal or legislative — to see that the 20-year-old formula used to disburse approximately $2.2 million in sales tax revenue to their towns and Port Allen be amended so their fire districts receive a proper share of the money.
The mayors of Port Allen, Addis and Brusly have been informally meeting with Parish President Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot for the past several months about the issue.
Brusly Mayor Joey Normand told his Town Council last week that he was no longer confident officials would be able to reach a consensus on the matter.
According to Berthelot, the only way the formula can be changed is through unanimous resolutions from the town and city councils of Brusly, Port Allen and Addis and then by the Parish Council.
“I’m thinking we might have to get the Legislature to change the law,” Berthelot said. “We have to have everyone agree 100 percent, and I don’t think it’s going to happen like that. Everyone is protecting their own interests instead of the overall interests of the parish.”
Revenue from the fire sales tax is distributed to West Baton Rouge Parish’s six fire subdistricts through a formula that was adopted by the parish government in 1991.
The formula uses a weighted average that takes 50 percent of an area’s population and 50 percent of its assessed property value into account to determine the revenue ratios for the fire districts.
Port Allen receives 50 percent of the tax pool while the subdistricts serving Addis and Brusly only get 9 percent and 17 percent respectively.
Based on the current formula, the other three subdistricts serving the parish’s unincorporated areas collect between 6 percent and 9 percent, officials have said.
Addis Mayor Carroll Bourgeois said that it’s not the formula that needs revising, but rather the outdated information officials plug into the formula.
Bourgeois said parish officials should be using more current data, and the law should be amended so that new information is cycled into the formula every four years.
“The parish is growing,” he said. “Most of the growth in West Baton Rouge is happening south of the Intercoastal (Canal).”
According to the 2010 U.S. Census Report, Addis experienced a 60 percent population growth between 2000 and 2010 while Brusly saw its resident numbers swell by 28 percent.
However, Port Allen experienced a 1.9 percent decrease in population within the last decade, according to the census report.
Bourgeois said his town would stand to gain between $75,000 to $100,000 annually in fire sales tax revenue using the current data.
Addis might then have the funding to provide 24-hour fire protection instead of a volunteer-based force, he said.
Port Allen would have to give up about 13 percent of its budget, or $250,000 in revenue under Bourgeois’ proposal, reports have shown.
“(Port Allen Mayor Roger Bergeron) knows full well this thing has to be evolved. Just plug in the new data and let the chips fall where they may,” Bourgeois said.
Bergeron said that the formula needs some tweaking. But despite the current stalemate in discussions among the group, the Port Allen mayor said he remained optimistic things will have a positive outcome.
Bergeron said late last week Port Allen is prepared to change the current formula.
“That’s what we’ve been working on since I came into office,” Bergeron said. “We’re very close. We’re in agreement more than we are in disagreement.”
Bergeron said he spoke with Normand after Normand expressed his doubts to the Brusly council and tried to assure him that Port Allen was not using a stalling tactic in hopes of pushing the issue aside.
“I told the other mayors and the Parish Council I would be willing to work toward a fair distribution,” Bergeron said.
Normand said he has begun discussions with several attorneys to determine the town’s options.
“It’s a bad law that needs to be thrown out,” Normand said. “We’re going to go at this thing every way we can and the end result is going to be the same thing as if logical people would have sat down and logically worked it out — expect a bunch of lawyers are going to make a bunch of money off of this.”