A range of Jefferson Parish business groups, an education organization and a group created to campaign against bridge tolls urged residents Thursday to support three proposed tax renewals, arguing they are necessary to support essential parish services.
The groups’ support comes on top of an endorsement by the Bureau of Governmental Research earlier this week and a strong public campaign on behalf of the property tax extensions by both the parish government and the parish School Board.
Voters will be asked to decide the fate of three taxes on the Oct. 19 ballot: a 3.54-mill water service tax, a 3.58 sewerage tax and a 7-mill tax for the public school system. All three are already on the books; if the extensions are passed, they will continue for another 10 years.
Business group representatives said Thursday that it is crucial to support the millages, particularly since they wouldn’t increase the tax burden in Jefferson Parish.
“It doesn’t cost the taxpayers any more, and the benefit we get out of it is huge,” said Jim Hudson, chairman of the Jefferson Business Council.
Thursday’s news conference included representatives of the Jefferson Chamber, Jefferson Business Council, East Jefferson Business Association, Elmwood Business Association, Harvey Canal Industrial Association, Kenner Professional Business Association, Stand for Children Louisiana and Stop the Tolls.
Representatives of those groups said that significant improvements in the Jefferson Parish school system warrant a continuation of the school tax, which makes up about 5 percent of the district’s budget.
“We owe it to the children to give them the highest level of education possible,” Kenner Professional Business Association President Todd Acomb said.
Several speakers praised the school system for making cuts to administrative staff in recent years and shielding classrooms from budget slashing.
“It shows really good stewardship,” Chamber President Todd Murphy said.
Support was equally strong for the continuation of the water and sewerage millages, which officials said have contributed to keeping Jefferson Parish’s utility rates significantly lower than other systems in the state. That funding has also allowed the parish to avoid problems plaguing other water systems in the New Orleans area, they said.
Echoing warnings from parish officials, Jefferson Business Council Executive Director Tony Ligi said the failure to renew the millages could result in the system’s falling out of compliance with state or federal environmental regulations.
The loss of the millage “would be devastating to the system,” Ligi said.
On Wednesday, BGR, a non-partisan research group in New Orleans, came out in support of all three proposals, saying that the taxes are a long-standing component of the parish’s and school board’s budgets, and serious problems would arise if they were eliminated.
All three of the tax extensions failed the first time they were put before the voters in May. That outcome has been largely credited to a heavy turnout of voters eager to cast ballots against an extension of the Crescent City Connection tolls and whose eagerness to vote “no” may have carried over onto other items on the ballot.
Mike Teachworth, who led the Stop the Tolls campaign, said at the news conference that his group never intended to sink the tax extensions.
“One of the things none of us wanted was an end to the funding for our parish’s essential infrastructure,” Teachworth said.