Voters in Slidell, Covington, Pearl River approve tax propositions

The few voters who turned out Saturday in Slidell, Covington and Pearl River overwhelmingly renewed property and sales taxes in those cities, while voters in St. Tammany Fire District No. 11, which serves the Pearl River area, approved a new tax to support the district, according to complete but unofficial election results.

Across the parish, turnout hovered in the single digits; the lone exception was Pearl River, where nearly 12 percent of the town’s eligible voters turned out to vote for the city’s quarter-cent tax renewal. In Slidell, only around 6 percent of voters cast ballots in each of the city’s tax propositions, and in Covington and Fire District No. 11, turnout was around 7 percent.

Voters in Slidell had the most issues on the ballot: three 10-year tax renewals to support police, sewerage and garbage collection. Each of the three received at least 61 percent of the vote, despite the circulation of an anti-tax flier before the election. The flier accused the City Council of putting the taxes on the ballot without proper public notice and said their renewal would amount to a tax increase for Slidell residents.

Slidell Mayor Freddy Drennan replied that even though the renewals authorize the maximum rates, officials have no plans to increase the lower rates at which the taxes are currently collected. In a sign of possible apprehension, Drennan called a press conference Friday to assure residents that approving the proposals would not amount to a tax increase.

The city has been collecting only 2.4 mills of the authorized 3-mill police tax, which was set to expire at the end of 2014. That tax brings in about $547,000 per year for the Slidell Police Department, which has a yearly $9.2 million budget, funded mainly through sales taxes. Failure of the tax renewal would have meant a roughly 6 percent cut to the city police budget, Drennan said.

The other two taxes — both for 5 mills — were set to expire at the end of 2015; the city has been collecting only 4 mills on each of them. Those levies bring in approximately $912,000 a year each to support operation and maintenance of the city’s sewer system and for garbage collection.

If the taxes had not been approved, the user fees for both services would have been increased, Drennan said.

In Pearl River, nearly 70 percent of voters approved the renewal of a quarter-cent sales tax for sewer maintenance and operations. The tax brings in an estimated $130,000 per year and was set to expire in 2016. City officials were counting on its renewal to help fund a new water tower in the town.

In Fire District No. 11, which serves the Pearl River area, about two-thirds of voters approved a new 8-mill tax to help pay for operations of the rapidly growing district. The district is now home to the two largest structures in the parish, a Rooms To Go outlet store and an Associated Wholesale Grocers warehouse, and needed the revenue to help pay for the increase in calls, according to Chief Johnny Leos.

Though the tax is new, Leos said voters would not see an increase in their tax bills because the district previously levied an 8-mill tax to pay off a bond issue. That tax expires next year. The new levy will bring in about $154,000 per year for the department, Leos said.

Voters in Covington also overwhelmingly approved a 10-mill renewal for that city’s Fire Department, the only municipal fire department in the parish. The tax should bring in about $1.1 million per year, or about 60 percent of the department’s budget, according to Mayor Mike Cooper. The millage was set to expire at the end of the year; 80 percent of the town’s voters approved its renewal.

The department handles 1,500 calls per year and has a Class 3 rating from the Property Insurance Association of Louisiana.