St. Tammany health tax OK’d

Covington — St. Tammany Parish voters adopted a parishwide millage that supports public health spending, with 60 percent of voters in complete but unofficial returns agreeing to renew for 10 years the 1.84 mill tax, which generates about $2.9 million a year.

Turnout in the parishwide race was 62 percent with 60,551 voting for the measure and 39,713 voting against.

Covington voters also gave the nod to a proposition that will allow city government greater flexibility in spending nearly $3.8 million in revenue generated by a 1-cent sales tax, with 71 percent of voters approving the measure. The vote was 3,217 for and 1,276 against in a race that drew 66 percent voter turnout.

Voters who live in St. Tammany Parish Waterworks District No. 2 agreed to allow the district to sell $985,000 in bonds to pay for improvements. The vote in the district, which lies between Covington and Abita Springs, was 3,217 for and 1,276 against in complete but unofficial returns, or 72 percent in favor. Turnout was 60 percent in that race.

Parish officials had campaigned hard for renewing the parish health millage, which supports two public health centers and other health activities, most notably suicide prevention. Parish President Pat Brister had called the millage the cornerstone for many health programs in the parish, with the large share going to crisis response teams. Parish officials argued that the tax was urgently needed in the face of shrinking mental health services in the region.

Covington officials, meanwhile, stressed that their proposition was not a renewal or a tax increase but simply a rededication that broadens how money can be spent from the sales tax that was first adopted in 1957.

Mayor Mike Cooper said that he and the city council waged what he called an “aggressive campaign to educate voters’’ on the need for more flexibility.

Covington had been dipping into its fund balance to pay for services not covered by the sales tax. The original dedication language covered fire protection, for example, but not police.

“This outcome not only preserves the level of services we provide and maintains our 2013 budget but is a reflection on the civic-mindedness of our citizens,’’ he said. “They heard us, they understood our intent, and they responded with confidence.’’