Ascension council plans vote on juvenile center tax

The Ascension Parish Council is expected to levy a 1-mill property tax on Thursday that will be dedicated toward housing the parish’s juvenile offenders and potentially building a juvenile detention center in the parish.

The council currently pays to house the parish’s juvenile offenders at the Assumption Parish Juvenile Detention Center and recently reached a deal with Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack to pay $130 per day per bed. The five-year deal guarantees the parish 10 beds in the center at an annual cost of $456,250.

The parish would have to pay extra for any additional beds needed over 10 and also would pay for the juveniles’ medications. Those costs currently have no dedicated funding source and are paid out of the parish’s general fund.

The new tax is expected to generate about $950,000 annually, with any remaining monies to be banked to pay for the eventual construction of a detention center for youth in the parish.

The council rejected in 2004 a special amendment that included imposing the 1-mill tax, which the council has authority under state Revised Statue 15:1099.5 to levy without voters’ consent.

That statute says the tax can be levied for up to 20 years, “for the purposes of acquiring, constructing, equipping, operating, maintaining, and managing a youth center and providing rehabilitative programs within a structured environment for children who enter the juvenile justice system.”

Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee said that ideally, the 11 council members wouldn’t be the officials deciding this issue on behalf of the parish’s 100,000-plus residents. However, he also understands that it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

“I wholeheartedly agree that any time you tax the people, if I had my druthers, a vote of the people should be what occurs,” Satterlee said. “We should always consult the people. However, in this case, I do realize the state has given the opportunity to local governmental authorities at the parish level all throughout the state to levy this tax.”

Councilman Kent Schexnaydre said this has been an issue that has loomed over the council for more than a decade, and the tax is supported by the sheriff, district attorney and judges in the parish.

It’s also something that other parishes in the state have done, he said.

“It’s gotten to the point where the rising costs of handling juveniles is going to be too much without a funding mechanism,” Schexnaydre said. “I think one of the things that’s good about Ascension Parish is we have safety here and we take care of our people, and we’re trying to do this without being piecemeal.”

Since he must be the voice for his constituents who aren’t allowed to vote on the tax, Satterlee pleaded with residents of District 4 to contact him if they are opposed to the tax. He said he sent out more than 100 emails to residents of the district he considers to be among the most active in their communities. Approximately 80 percent of the responses were in favor of the tax, he said, though he still said he’s troubled that residents won’t have the final say.

However, because it’s an issue he feels needs to be addressed sooner than later, Satterlee said, he’s leaning toward voting in favor of the tax.

“I don’t think we need to kick the can down the road again,” Satterlee said.