Ascension voters reject fire tax proposal

Voters in Ascension Parish’s Fire Protection District 1 rejected a property tax and parcel fee on Saturday that would have provided full-time firefighters to most of the parish’s east bank.

According to complete but unofficial results on the Secretary of State’s website, 3,346 voters, or 58 percent, voted against the tax while 2,411 voters cast votes in favor of the proposal.

“It looks like a sad day for us,” St. Amant Volunteer Fire Department Chief James LeBlanc said.

The 15-mill property tax proposal with residential and commercial parcel fees was expected to generate more than $4 million a year to provide the six volunteer fire departments in the district with full-time firefighters and replace existing equipment, vehicles and upgrade the fire stations.

For a $150,000 house with a homestead exemption, the 15-mill tax would have cost the homeowner an additional $112.50 per year. The parcel fee would have cost residents $32 annually and businesses $100 per year.

The district serves more than 70,000 residents and covers most of the parish’s east bank except for Prairieville and Gonzales.

The plan called for hiring 36 full-time firefighters — two each for three shifts at every station. There also would have been a shift captain for each shift, part-time supervisors to oversee volunteer firefighters and a central office, including a district fire chief.

Only 16 percent of the district’s registered voters turned out for the election, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

“I’m definitely surprised by the low turnout,” LeBlanc said. “We got 5,700 people who voted out of 70,000 people that live in the district, so that’s a little disappointing.

The problem with this is we are dealing with people’s lives and we are dealing with people’s properties.”

The fire tax was opposed by the Ascension Republic Parish Executive Committee, which sent out fliers and lobbied against the tax. Kathryn Goppelt, the group’s chairwoman, said her group opposed the tax because it would have caused a 17 percent increase in property taxes.

“I think the people spoke,” Goppelt said. “We’re tired of taxes, not just our group. We’re tired of taxes. We want the government to use what they’ve got.”

LeBlanc said the district likely will have to cut services, but volunteer firefighters will continue to protect the district’s residents.

“We are somewhat disappointed with the results, but we’ve got to pick the pieces up and take care of the people,” LeBlanc said.