Youngsville police needs cost lower than funding
YOUNGSVILLE — Youngsville is facing a peculiar problem in these economic times — a 1-cent sales tax that supports the Police Department is bringing in more money than the department can spend.
Mayor Wilson Viator is proposing to ask voters to allow the city to use some of that money for something else.
“If you pay taxes, you want to get a service for it,” the mayor said.
Voters approved the 1-cent sales tax in 1981 on the condition that the tax money be used for police protection, but Viator said the Police Department’s budget rarely approaches the annual revenue generated by the tax, which is about $1.5 million this year.
The money cannot be used for anything else, and over the years the surplus funds have sat in a bank account that has risen to about $1.6 million and will likely be at about $2 million by the end of next year, Viator said.
“Right now, the council can’t do anything (with it). I won’t be the mayor anymore, and that money will keep growing,” he said.
Viator said he hopes the council will consent to put the issue on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The proposal could come before the City Council later this month.
Police Chief Earl Menard did not return three messages left at his office seeking comment, but the chief said at a special council meeting last week that he opposes Viator’s plans, according to minutes of the meeting.
Menard argued that he might need the extra money as a financial cushion if the economy slides.
The chief also said the department is in the process of implementing a civil service system that will bring additional expenses for a secretary and additional office space.
Viator said any tax proposal could be worded to ensure that the Police Department’s needs are met before any of the money is used for roads, drainage, recreation or other needs.
“The reason is not to take any money from the Police Department but to utilize the tremendous surplus that has built up in that account,” the mayor said.
Councilman Ken Ritter said he hopes a middle ground can be reached with the police chief, possibly a proposal that would temporarily allow a portion of the 1-cent tax to be used for other purposes and then restore the full dedication to the Police Department after two years.
That plan would allow the city to use some of the tax revenue for roads, the Fire Department or other needs in the short term while safeguarding police funding in the long term, he said.
If the police tax is still generating more than enough revenue for the Police Department in two years, Ritter said, the council could revisit the dedication issue.
“I’m optimistic we can work out something where the police chief will be on board,” Ritter said. “… We really need to have the police chief’s support and backing.”
Councilwoman Brenda Burley remains wary.
Burley said she would consider temporarily rededicating a portion of the police tax for two years to help fund the Fire Department, but she would rather leave things as they are.
“I would like to see nothing done at this time. We can revisit it at another time,” Burley said.
She also noted that Youngsville voters in 2008 shot down an earlier proposal to rededicate a portion of the 1-cent police tax for road work.
Viator said he realizes a need for consensus if the city plans to propose a change in the police tax.
“It’s hard to rededicate a tax or pass a tax unless we are all on the same page,” he said.
The talk of tax rededication comes after Youngsville voters last year approved a new 1-cent sales tax to fund a recreation complex.
The recreation tax brought the city’s total sales tax rate to 9.5 percent, with 3.5 cents on the dollar going to Youngsville, 2 cents to the School Board and 4 cents to the state.