Gautreaux urges voters to renew property tax on Oct. 19

Sheriff Sid Gautreaux warned Tuesday that he would be forced to scale back services and make sweeping cuts if East Baton Rouge Parish voters fail to renew a 10-year property tax at the polls next month.

The 6.9-mill property tax generates an estimated $24.7 million a year, or roughly 30 percent of the Sheriff’s Office general operating fund.

“If we were to lose that, it would have a devastating effect on the office and the services that we provide,” said Gautreaux, addressing a gathering of the Chamber of Commerce of East Baton Rouge Parish.

“The only thing we could do is cut personnel, and that would result in cutting services, which none of us wants to happen,” he said. “I don’t think we can afford to let that happen today with what we’re faced with in law enforcement, trying to keep our cities and community as safe as possible.”

The tax renewal will appear on the Oct. 19 ballot, a Saturday election Gautreaux said is expected to draw a paltry turnout.

The sheriff said turnout is likely to be further affected by LSU and Southern University having out-of-town football games that weekend. Early voting is scheduled for Oct. 5-12, with the exception of Sunday, Oct. 6.

The tax costs property owners $17.25 a year for properties valued at $100,000 with the homestead exemption and $86.25 a year for properties valued at $200,000 with the homestead exemption.

That money goes into the general fund for operations, covering salaries and other expenses related to Sheriff’s Office programs.

The 6.9-mill tax is one of three property taxes that account for the Sheriff’s Office’s primary funding. There also is a permanent 4.36-mill tax and a 10-year tax for 3.73 mills, which was last renewed in May 2010.

Gautreaux said Tuesday he is not requesting a tax increase, even as the population of the parish has grown and calls for service have doubled since the last time the tax was renewed.

“I can promise you as a taxpayer myself, if this were a new tax or an increased tax, I would not be here asking you for this,” Gautreaux said. “It’s a renewal of an existing tax, and in that regard, it won’t cost you anything extra.”

Gautreaux said he intends to promote the tax renewal over the next few weeks through direct mail and possibly television advertising. “Last time we passed this with 82 percent of the vote,” he said, “so hopefully we’ll be able to get it passed in that fashion again.”