CLINTON — In a situation unique to East Feliciana Parish, the School Board could gain revenues and other parish agencies potentially could lose more than $400,000 if voters approve a 38-mill tax increase on the April 6 ballot.
The School Board is asking voters to approve the property tax increase to provide money for pay raises for teachers and other employees, school maintenance work, technology improvements and enhancements to the parish’s academic program.
East Feliciana has the lowest property tax millage in Louisiana, and state law allows movable property to be allocated to the taxing unit where the company owning it has an office or an agent.
As a result, 10 companies affiliated with railroads operating in Louisiana have designated agents in East Feliciana Parish, where their rail cars and other rolling stock is taxed at the lowest possible rate.
Parish Assessor Jeff Gardner said the total parishwide millage for 2012 was 47.33 mills.
“Railroads can claim their domicile anywhere they want to in the state,” Gardner said, adding that the declarations are made in two-year increments.
“Normally, this means they will gravitate toward the lowest-mill parish in the state. So, once you no longer are the lowest-mill parish, it’s normally an exodus,” he said.
Ironically, East Feliciana has no trains running through the parish.
The state tax commission assesses the value of the railroad property because railroads are considered public utilities.
Gardner said railroads paid a total of $668,377 to parish agencies for 2012, including $250,802 to the School Board.
“With that being said, there’s a possibility that we could lose that much money, but it’s not a guarantee. There could be some that could stay, but that’s strictly speculative,” Gardner said.
Railroad companies began establishing their domiciles in East Feliciana from Union Parish in 2006, after Union Parish voters approved a new school tax.
Police Jury President Dennis Aucoin said he requested the figures on how much railroads paid to parish taxing bodies in 2012.
“I’m a graduate of Clinton High School. I don’t have a beef with the School Board, but I do have concerns. And my concern is what this is going to do to the rest of the parish,” Aucoin said.
“As president of the Police Jury, I want the public to be informed,” Aucoin said.
The tax revenue associated with railroads for 2012, according to the figures provided to Aucoin, were:
- Parish assessment district (Assessor’s Office), $78,791.
- Emergency Communications District (911 system), $12,330.
- Parish-wide Fire Protection District, $77,065.
- Health Unit, $36,991.
- Law Enforcement District (Sheriff’s Office), $64,735.
- Audubon Regional Library, $30,826.
- Police Jury, $34,155.
- School constitutional tax, $41,183.
- School employee salary tax, $209,618.
- Town of Clinton, $81,383.
- Town of Slaughter, $61.
Although Gardner’s office would be affected if the railroads changed domiciles, he said he is not taking a position on the election.
“I’m straddling the fence on this one,” Gardner said.
School Board President Michael Ray Bradford declined comment on the issue of other taxing bodies potentially losing money if the tax passes.
The School Board considered the effect of the railroads’ pullout during discussions last week about calling the tax, but only in terms of its overall impact on the School Board’s total revenues.
The board’s financial adviser estimated a 38-mill tax will generate between $3.7 million and $4.4 million annually for the school system, depending on the positions the railroads take.
Meanwhile, the School Board is asking representatives of civic or community organizations to call Tonia Taylor at the central office, (225) 683-8277, extension 231, if they would like to schedule a speaker during February or March to discuss the proposed tax.