The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office will get an additional $1.5 million in property tax revenue beginning next year because Sheriff Sid Gautreaux rolled forward his office’s millage on Tuesday.
At a public hearing that drew no members of the public, Gautreaux said he did not take the decision to roll forward the millage lightly.
“As sheriff, it’s not only my responsibility to serve and protect, but I also have to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars,” the sheriff said.
Gautreaux said he was compelled to roll forward the 14.99 mills because property values have been flat in recent years.
He said from 1999 to 2010, the Sheriff’s Office has seen property tax revenues increase yearly by an average of 7 percent or $2.3 million per year, because of new construction on the property tax rolls or increased property values generating more revenue.
But this year and last year, Gautreaux said, the property tax increases have been less than 1.5 percent, generating increases of less than $700,000 per year.
The sheriff also said lower interest rates on bank accounts have hurt his office’s budget in recent years.
From 2005 to 2008, the Sheriff’s Office earned $3.3 million from accrued interest on accounts, but from 2009 to 2012, it collected less than $500,000.
At the same time, he said, health insurance costs from 2008 to 2012 have increased 30 percent, and fuel costs have increased 47 percent.
“It’s not that we don’t have money to operate, but if we continue with nothing changing, I’ll have to do one of two things,” he said. “Go to the public and ask for additional funding or cut services, which is something I don’t think any of us can afford in law enforcement right now.”
Gautreaux has said the additional $1.5 million for the Sheriff’s Office will primarily be used to pay for salaries and benefits that otherwise might have to be cut.
Gautreaux also has said almost 80 percent of his $80.3 million budget comes from property taxes, and even with the bump in tax revenue, his office is facing a budget shortfall of nearly $5 million for the current fiscal year, which began July 1.
As a result, Gautreaux said, he has modified spending in all areas of his office. More specifically, he said he has instituted a hiring and promotions freeze as well as halted cost-of-living pay increases.
Last year, the Sheriff’s Office collected about $51 million in property tax revenue. This year, the office expects to collect $52.5 million with the roll forward.
Louisiana assessors are required by law to re-evaluate all property in a parish every four years and 2012 is one of those years.
After a reassessment, millages are automatically rolled back so the taxing agencies receive the same amount of money as the year before, despite increases in property values.
But with a two-thirds vote of the governing board, the taxing agencies can roll forward the millage to the previous rate and receive the additional tax revenue, according to the state constitution.
Because the sheriff is not governed by a board, he alone decides whether to roll the millage forward. Gautreaux’s decision to do so will affect taxpayers’ 2012 bill.
Roll forwards have been met with opposition this year by the East Baton Rouge Parish Republican Party, which launched “Operation Stop the Roll Forward.”
Woody Jenkins, chairman of the party, has characterized roll forwards as a back door tax increase that residents do not get to vote on.
Jenkins said earlier this week that the party’s 17-member executive committee would not oppose the sheriff’s roll forward, because the office is “very stretched,” after meeting with Gautreaux and reviewing the law enforcement agency’s budget. He also said he believes that voters would have supported this increase.
The Sheriff’s Office is one of seven parish property taxes East Baton Rouge Parish property owners are required to pay. After schools, the Sheriff’s Office and the parish parks commission have the two largest millage rates.