East Feliciana eyeing tax vote

Charged with running schools in a parish with the state’s lowest property tax rate, the East Feliciana Parish School Board has started talking about raising more money for public education.

The board’s financial adviser, certified public accountant Tommy LeJeune, presented estimates Tuesday of the amount of money that could be gained if voters approved a 28-, 38- or 48-mill property tax increase.

The board discussed its options for about 15 minutes and decided to send the proposal to the Finance Committee, which is scheduled to take it up at 4:15 p.m. Thursday.

Board President Michael Bradford said he likely will call a special board meeting later this month to consider the committee’s recommendation.

The board now collects a 3.34-mill tax authorized by the state constitution and a 17-mill tax last renewed by the voters in 2005 for 10 years. Together, the two taxes are expected to generate about $2.36 million this year, LeJeune said.

Board members talked in general terms about putting a tax proposal before the voters May 4, one of four possible election dates in 2013. LeJeune said the board does not have enough time to get a proposition on the ballot for the April 6 elections.

Because East Feliciana has the lowest total property tax millage in Louisiana, some railroads doing business in the state claim their domiciles in the parish, although East Feliciana has no operating rail lines.

Union Parish formerly had the lowest property taxes in Louisiana, but railroads began “moving” to East Feliciana Parish when Union Parish voters approved additional school taxes.

If East Feliciana voters approve a tax increase and the railroads change domiciles again, the school system would lose those revenues, but the loss would be offset by the overall higher tax revenues and an increase in state aid, LeJeune said.

A 28-mill increase would generate an additional $2.15 million if the railroads left, while a 38-mill hike would bring in $2.9 million more. A 48-mill increase would generate $3.7 million in additional revenues, according to the figures presented Tuesday.

Board member Rufus Nesbitt said the first thing voters will ask is, “Why do you need the money?”

Several of his colleagues agreed with him that voters will need to be convinced that additional money is needed.

“It’s going to take an educational program,” LeJeune said.

Superintendent Henderson Lewis said more money is needed to raise teacher salaries and stop the constant turnover of employees in the system. The parish also needs to spend money to get students and teachers ready for new national curriculum standards.

The district also faces challenges in getting enough computers and digital bandwidth for students to be able to take accountability tests by computer in the near future, he said.

Parish schools also have a long list of maintenance and renovation needs that have gone untouched because of a lack of money, board members said.