Ballot proposal would regulate formation of districts
Eight more East Baton Rouge Parish subdivisions have gained the legal authority to create neighborhood crime prevention and improvement districts — joining some dozen others given the go-ahead in prior years.
The popularity of the districts continues to grow and now reaches all areas of the parish and across different social and economic backgrounds, from Jefferson Place-Bocage to Melrose Place, and Hampton Village to Glen Oaks.
“When we are in the national rankings on murder and crime, it’s hard to tell folks we are not going to give them an opportunity to do what they can,” said state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, sponsor of a proposed constitutional amendment dealing with crime districts that will be on the Nov. 6 election ballot.
New state laws provide for districts in Park Forest, Mayfair Park, Mayfair Park East, Mayfair Heights, Glen Oaks, Hampton Village, Carmel Acres and Live Oak Trace. Other legislation fixed a problem in state law that prevented moving forward with a previously created Broadmoor district.
The districts have the authority — with subdivision voter approval — to levy parcel fees with proceeds earmarked for such things as hiring security patrols, improving lighting, installing cameras and other neighborhood enhancements. The parcel fees are collected with property taxes.
Previously approved districts include those for South Burbank, Concord Estates, Hermitage-Cross Creek, Westminster-Pine Park, Melrose Place, Shenandoah Estates, Greenwood, Melrose East, Broadmoor, Park Forest East, Jefferson Place-Bocage and Wedgewood.
As of 2011 tax rolls, all but Melrose East, Park Forest East, Broadmoor and Jefferson Place-Bocage had parcel fees being assessed, according to the parish tax collector and assessor’s offices. Jefferson Place-Bocage is scheduled to come online for 2012.
Homeowners who live in Shenandoah and Jefferson Place-Bocage who have special assessment levels because of age, disability or other reasons are exempt from paying the parcel fee under laws creating the districts.
Parcel fees are as low as $25 annually to $500. Most are in the $100 to $250 range on residential property.
Concord Estates resident Harry W. Johnson said the district in his area, located off Interstate 10 near College Drive, is “moving along rather smoothly.”
“We don’t have a lot of problems,” said Johnson, who helped spearhead creation of one of the early districts.
Johnson said off-duty police patrols and an organized neighborhood watch is paying dividends. “It’s more of a cooperative effort between the neighborhood and our patrols,” he said.
The off-duty officers are on four hours a day with the times varying, Johnson said. “You don’t want criminals to get in the habit of knowing when these people are in the neighborhood.”
“We don’t have anywhere near as much trouble as we used to have,” he said.
Westminster-Pine Park is one of the newer districts with voters approving the parcel fee proposition in the fall of 2010. The $100 annual fee went into effect in 2011, but no dollars came in until Jan. 17 this year.
“We have been able to dramatically increase our sheriff’s patrol, which has made a huge difference in preventing crime,” said Dawnette Shelton, a member of the district board.
Prior to the parcel fee attached to the property tax, about 56 percent of residents paid subdivision dues, Shelton said. Now everybody benefits with dues in the form of the parcel fee paid by 100 percent, she said.
The failure of subdivision residents in many neighborhoods to pay association dues prompted much of the legislation creating the crime prevention and improvement districts.
Before, the neighborhood had about 32 hours a month in security patrols. Now it’s almost 32 hours a week, with some working undercover, Shelton said. “We do have a big emphasis during the day,” she said.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, burglaries in the Westminster-Pine Park area are trending downward. In 2010, there were 15 burglaries. So far, through the first half of 2012, there have been five burglaries reported.
There’s only been one carport robbery in recent times where the people kept lawn equipment outdoors, Shelton said.
“We want to be proactive. We are in the Gardere (sheriff’s) substation area, the farthest out. ... This is added security and added protection. We are in the ‘V’ of Interstate 10 and Interstate 12. We were just getting hit too much,” said Shelton, of the neighborhood located off Jefferson Highway where it meets Drusilla Lane. “The sheriffs cannot be everywhere with murders and armed robberies. A car break-in is not going to get the attention.”
Not everybody is a fan of creating the crime prevention districts.
Claitor said resident complaints about lack of input as proponents go to the Legislature to seek legal authority for the districts prompted him to file a proposed constitutional amendment.
“They were in the words of that movie ‘Network.’ They were mad as hell and weren’t going to take it anymore. They were very unhappy about not knowing about it until they found out it was going to be on a ballot,” Claitor said. “I’m just trying to increase participation by the public.”
“They wished they had the opportunity to come down here (to the Legislature) and participate.”
Under the proposed constitutional amendment, those seeking legislative approval of new districts would have to publish three public notices 30 days prior to the introduction of the bill and provide the substance of the proposed law, including whether the district would be authorized to impose or collect a parcel fee, the maximum amount of the parcel fee, and whether it can be imposed or increased without an election.
The proposition will be on the Nov. 6 ballot for statewide voter approval.