Youngsville putting sales tax rededication in hands of voters

The City Council voted unanimously Thursday to call for a special election in November for voters to decide on the rededication of half of a one-cent sales tax from the Police Department to the general fund.

The council had voted in 2012 to rededicate half of the 1-cent sales tax for a period of two years beginning on Jan. 1, 2013. The proposed ballot issue would permanently rededicate that portion of the tax to the general fund.

The Police Department has a surplus of $1,585,070.

“After operating for one year on the half-cent, the surplus was only reduced by $36,542,” Councilman A.J. Bernard said. “According to reports, it would take 17 or 18 years to reduce this surplus. I think we can reduce the sales tax of the police department and make this permanent.”

Police Chief Earl Menard said he disagreed with the resolution to make the rededication permanent.

Menard said he wanted to extend the dedication for two more years and said he would agree to re-evaluate after that time period.

“I agreed to do this last year trying to help y’all out,” Menard said. “I’d like to see it go back, but we can talk about it. If we have enough businesses and I can see that we will not have a problem, y’all are welcome to it. I have to fight for my department. Our equipment is not cheap, but if the town can make it and I can make it, why not?”

Although Councilwoman Diane McClelland voted to pass the resolution calling for a special election, she agreed with Menard that it would be better to rededicate it for two more years so the council would have a better idea of the revenue being generated by new businesses.

“We would have a much clearer grasp on what our rec center will bring in by then and other revenue,” she said. “I think the reason why it worked was because it was for two years. We could always come back and do it again in two years.”

Councilman Tim Barbier, who doubles as Youngsville’s fire chief, said the rededication of the tax allowed the city to use that money for other projects rather than sit idle in a surplus fund.

“The almost $1.5 million in an account isn’t doing taxpayers any good,” Barbier said.

Mayor Wilson Viator said the only reason he agreed to rededicating the tax for only two years previously was so the city could show the surplus would still be there.

“We have proved that a one-cent sales tax is too large for the police department,” Viator said. “We have 20 cars; we have a brand new office and we have operated this department for a whole year on a half-cent. We need to give the voters an opportunity to vote on this.”

He added, “You aren’t taking it away from the police department. If you want us to keep putting it in a savings account, then vote against it. I think it needs to be permanent.”

Voters passed the original dedication of the one-cent sales tax in 1981.

Councilman Ken Ritter said it makes sense to re-evaluate the dedication because the city’s dynamics have vastly changed in 33 years.

“We’re allowing the general fund to have more money for capital projects,” Ritter said.

“I know the money is working, and I know the two-year rededication is working. From a taxpayer’s prospective, they like dedicated taxes because it is dedicated for specific purposes. If the day arrives where we are taking too much money in, I hope we can admit it and rededicate that money.”

Ritter also said as long as he is on the council, “police protection will always be a priority.” He agreed to always give the department what it needs to perform day-to-day operations.

Mayor Pro Tempore Brenda Burley was absent from the meeting.