Voters may be asked to raise property taxes
East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux told state officials Thursday he is contemplating asking voters to increase property taxes because of budget difficulties at his office.
Gautreaux went before the state Bond Commission, which oversees borrowing, to receive permission for a $15 million budgetary loan to ensure cash flow until property tax collections are received in January.
He is not ready to reveal how much of an increase he is considering. Instead, he and state Treasurer John Kennedy commiserated over financial woes facing state and local governments, with Gautreaux citing some of the avenues he is reviewing.
Budgetary loans are not unusual, but Gautreaux’s office is steadily increasing the size of them. Such loans allow government entities to borrow money for a short period of time until revenue materializes.
Bond Commission data shows the loans increased by $9 million over an eight-year period.
For the 2011 fiscal year, the East Baton Rouge Parish Law Enforcement District received a $10 million budgetary loan, which was not enough to cover the Sheriff’s Office expenses. Some bills were paid late to cover the gap.
This year, the request was for $15 million.
“Sid, I understand the situation you’re in,” Kennedy told Gautreaux Thursday.
Gautreaux said East Baton Rouge Parish became the most heavily populated parish in the state after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, yet property taxes are not keeping pace with the boom in population.
Over a 20-year period, he said, property taxes averaged a 5 percent increase every year. The increase dipped to 2½ percent in 2011 with collections only expected to rise by 1½ percent this year, he said.
The drops mean a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for the Sheriff’s Office because new construction and property values are not generating significant money increases.
Gautreaux said he does not want to scale back on law enforcement operations.
“I will not allow us to get beyond that point without going to the public and laying all the cards on the table,” he said. “We cannot afford a step back.”
The commission approved Gautreaux’s request for a budgetary loan.
After the meeting, Gautreaux spokeswoman, Casey Rayborn Hicks, said a tax increase will be given further consideration after revenue and expenditures are evaluated for the current fiscal year.
“There is no specific amount nor a specific date,” she said.
The Bond Commission also approved a $5.2 million budgetary loan for St. George Fire Protection District No. 2 to ensure the district can make payroll until ad valorem taxes are distributed.
Like the Sheriff’s Office, St. George is steadily increasing its budgetary loans, which amounted to $1 million in 2001 and increased to $5 million in 2011.
Kennedy expressed concern about the reliance on budgetary loans.
St. George Fire Department Chief Gerard Tarleton said the district is grappling with increased coverage area and rising costs.
He said pension and health care expenses are hitting the district hard.