BY AARON E. LOONEY
Special to The Advocate
July 20, 2012
GONZALES — Ascension Parish residents living within Fire Protection District No. 1 will be able to decide in December the fate of a proposed funding mechanism for fire protection.
By an 8-0 vote Thursday before a chamber more than half filled with firefighters and first responders, the Parish Council voted to place the item on the Dec. 8 general election ballot in district precincts.
The district is asking voters to approve a new 10-year, 15-mill property tax and annual parcel fees of $100 per commercial parcel and $32 per residential parcel.
Revenues would go toward operations, facilities and equipment for the district.
On a $150,000 house with a homestead exemption, the 15-mill tax would cost an additional $112.50 per year.
The district serves more than 72,000 people on the parish’s east bank, and operates with about $1.5 million a year in parish funding and mostly volunteer firefighters.
The fire district board has estimated that if voters approve the funding package, the district’s annual budget would climb from $1.5 million to more than $5 million.
James LeBlanc, chairman of the fire district’s board of directors, responded to rumors that politics were involved with the proposal, adding that the district’s six departments were united in the request.
“If you’re going to blame anyone for putting this tax on the ballot, blame the volunteer firefighters that have worked their tails off their entire lives for you,” LeBlanc said.
“All we’re asking now is that you help us.”
Prior to the vote, Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee made a substitute motion to place the referendum on the Nov. 6 presidential election ballot.
Satterlee said while he supports an election for the tax proposal, he feels that holding the election in November would save money in election costs and avoid the risk of lower voter turnout.
“I’m not here to tell anyone how to vote,” he said. “But I do feel that as a parish councilman, I’m here to maximize the ability to vote and to be a good shepherd of parish tax dollars.”
Malcolm Dugas, attorney for the fire district, said that while the application deadline to the state Bond Commission for consideration on the Nov. 6 ballot was July 18, a waiver could be requested to extend the deadline to Aug. 6 for hearing the application at an ad-hoc commission meeting on Aug. 27.
Councilman Bryan Melancon seconded the alternative motion, which failed by a 6-2 vote. Only Satterlee and Melancon voted in favor of the change.
Council Chairman Chris Loar and Councilman Dempsey Lambert were absent Thursday, and council Vice Chairman Benny Johnson did not vote.