The board that oversees East Baton Rouge Parish’s park system will consider Thursday whether to roll forward the system’s property millage tax, a move opponents have called a “backdoor approach to raising taxes.”
Parish residents pay a 14.463-mill property tax for BREC operations. But because 2012 is a reassessment year, that will automatically roll back to 14.038 mills unless two-thirds of the nine commissioners vote to roll it forward.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission needs the extra $1.488 million that rolling the millage forward will bring, BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said.
“Our costs have continued to increase,” McKnight said. “In order to stay on track with inflation, we choose to roll forward.”
Leaders of the parish Republican Party, however, said they plan to attend Thursday’s BREC meeting and urge commissioners to reject the proposal by BREC administrators to roll forward the millage tax.
“It’s a pretty significant increase, a tax increase without voter approval,” said Republican Party Chairman Woody Jenkins. “BREC already gets a significant increase in revenue because of new property going on the tax rolls.”
McKnight said that in addition to inflation, BREC is facing increasing costs in other areas, including its contribution to employee retirement programs.
“We are talking about another $250,000 on that alone,” she said. “Our water and sewer rates also went up.”
In addition, McKnight said, security expenses at some new community parks, like Howell and Greenwood, increased by $80,000 in 2012.
Meanwhile, the new Central sports complex, expected to open in the fall, will cost between $150,000 and $250,000 to operate in 2013, McKnight said.
In total, BREC will have $1.7 million in extra expenses next year, according to information provided by Kristi Barnett Williams, a BREC spokeswoman.
McKnight noted that BREC has taken steps to cut costs, including freezing employee salaries and leaving several administrative positions unfilled. Further cuts may be required if the roll forward isn’t approved, she said.
“We are probably talking about a hiring freeze,” she said. “I will have to pull back and take a real hard look at what we are doing.”
McKnight said BREC would take such steps as suspending executive car allowances and having employees fill out mileage sheets. Other steps could include reducing operating hours at some parks and cutting back on mowing schedules, she said.
Jenkins, who has called rolling forward millages a “backdoor approach to raising taxes,” said he and others in the parish Republican Party are mounting a campaign called “Operation Stop the Roll Forward” to stop BREC and others from rolling millages forward.
Dan Kyle, a Republican Party member and former member of BREC’s governing board, said: “We are going to be researching how much property has been added (to the tax rolls) and how much (BREC) is going to receive” in additional funds as a result.
Kyle was Louisiana’s Legislative Auditor from 1989 until 2003.
Kenneth Riche, BREC’s board chairman, said Friday he had yet to decide how he would vote.
“I really want to cover all my bases before I make a decision,” Riche said. “I am aware that this is taxpayer dollars and we have to be prudent with that.”
Craig Freeman, also a board member, said he supports rolling the millage forward.
“BREC’s work improves property values,” Freeman said. “I hope that we will be able to roll forward so that we can reap some of the benefits for the community,” Freeman said.
Freeman disputed the argument that rolling forward is a “backdoor” tax increase.
“It is fundamentally flawed to say I bought a house at $40,000 and now it’s worth $100,000, my taxes should be frozen at $40,000,” he said. “This is not a raise in taxes; everybody’s paying their fair share.”
Riche and Freeman agreed that Thursday’s meeting could be contentious.
“I expect a long meeting,” Riche said.