For St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff Mike Tregre, the second time was the charm.
Six months after failing — by 453 votes — to persuade residents to pay an extra $2 million a year in taxes for his office, Tregre won the day Saturday on his proposal to raise the parish sales tax by a quarter-percent to add more deputies, boost their pay and buy more crime cameras for busy intersections and the entrances to major subdivisions.
“The citizens responded. They’ve shown a willingness to be a partner in this,” Tregre said Saturday night.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, 60 percent of voters favored the tax increase. More than 4,260 people cast votes, just over 14 percent of eligible parish voters, according to the Louisiana secretary of state’s website.
The vote will push St. John’s overall sales tax to 9 percent for the next 10 years.
Tregre blamed his April failure on timing, noting that the vote took place just as Gov. Bobby Jindal was pitching his controversial idea to replace the state income tax with a higher sales tax. That proposal was eventually scrapped.
For a family in the parish making about $40,000 a year, the increase will cost about $40 annually.
The Sheriff’s Office borrowed $3 million to meet expenses in 2012; Tregre said it’s on course to borrow $4 million this year.
“I’m not a borrowing-money person,” he said. “I would like to show the citizens that I will be responsible for every penny spent.”
The current starting salary for deputies in St. John is about $24,800 per year. The pay jumps to about $35,700 for a deputy on patrol with the proper credentials, the sheriff said.
Tregre touts the crime cameras — which cost between $2,000 and $20,000 apiece, depending on features — as an important law enforcement tool. The Sheriff’s Office has about 45 cameras.
He pointed to a rise in violent crime in the parish as a reason for installing more: St. John had 10 criminal homicide cases in the first five months of 2013, up from four in the same period a year ago, according to department statistics.
Tregre said cameras have helped crack high-profile crimes elsewhere, such as the Mother’s Day shooting in New Orleans. Closer to home, he said, a surveillance camera in LaPlace recorded three men running from a fatal shooting inside a house on Ellerslie Avenue in July.
“We will make St. John Parish safe,” he said.
“There’s a lot of work to do, and again I knew it would not be easy, but I have surrounded myself with some very good people, and we all know the mission and what needs to be done.”
The measure was supported by the River Region Chamber of Commerce.