YOUNGSVILLE — A proposal to permanently rededicate half of a 1-cent sales tax created more than 30 years ago for Youngsville Police Department has zero support from those racing to lead the department.
The 1981 voter-supported 1-cent sales tax, which was created to help the city’s small police force and generated about $1.5 million annually, had a $1.6 million surplus when the council approved a trial, two-year rededication period in 2012 that split the tax revenues, sending half to the city’s general fund.
Now voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to make that proposal permanent.
“I’m definitely not for it,” said incumbent Police Chief Earl Menard. “We keep increasing every year. As the population increases, (the Police Department will) increase also.”
Menard staffs 14 officers in a department budgeted for 20, but he said he wants to hire more officers and ensure the money is available to do so.
Rickey Boudreaux, who is a candidate for police chief, also said he’s against the proposal.
“I think the new police chief, whoever that may be, will need the money to upgrade equipment, technology, personnel,” Boudreaux said.
He said he’d rather the tax be rededicated as a total public safety tax that also funds the Fire Department, which today primarily operates on a volunteer basis.
The Fire Department’s budget will increase by nearly 26 percent next year to $538,250, a fraction of the Police Department’s nearly $1.4 million budget for 2015.
Gary Williams, who is also a candidate for police chief, said he wants the sales tax money to stay in the department where it can be used to hire more officers, upgrade equipment, pay for more training for officers and to hire an assistant chief of police.
“For whatever reason, there’s a lot of extra money right now in the Police Department,” Williams said. “But you have to keep in mind, for many, many years, we were understaffed.”
If voters approve the rededication, the money will be available for any citywide need, including police, fire and infrastructure. A failed vote means the money stays strictly with the Police Department.
The proposal has gained support from most candidates running for Youngsville City Council, who seem to have separately reached the consensus that the money should be used for needed infrastructure projects, like roads and drainage.
Incumbent Division E Councilwoman Dianne McClelland said she would have rather waited two years before asking that the tax be permanently split between the police and the city’s general fund.
“It’s not hurting the Police Department, and if it ever got to that point, I know the council would support giving the Police Department what they need,” McClelland said.
Division D incumbent Tim Barbier said he supports the rededication, as did Division B council member and Mayor Pro-Tem Brenda Burley, who isn’t running for re-election.
“Our sales taxes in Youngsville are definitely not going to go down,” Division C. Councilman A. J. Bernard said.
Since the two-year rededication went into effect in January 2013, the surplus dropped to a little more than $1 million as the city used some of those funds for capital projects, said Councilman and Mayor-Elect Ken Ritter.
“We had money in our budget to do a road overlay project — just usual maintenance,” Ritter said. “We were able to increase that project considerably because of that rededicated money.”
Subdivisions like Copperfield and Field Crest — along with Copper Meadows Boulevard and Durel, Thorn and Lahasky drives — reaped the benefit, Ritter said, but noted that the Youngsville Highway could use some attention.
“We’re going to have to look at widening that road because we’ve had a lot of subdivisions that have come along that highway,” Ritter said.
A $6.5 million request to the state to widen to three lanes La. 89 from Fortune Road to La. 92 is budgeted for 2015. The city is requesting another $500,000 from the state to repair Chemin Metairie Road, and Youngsville’s budget allots $400,000 for resurfacing projects next year.
Ritter said the rededicated funds could be used toward a pending project the city plans to do with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to improve drainage systems in the city.
“That money will still be available for police protection in the future,” Ritter said. “This is just kind of broadening the use of that money for continued infrastructure projects in the city should the Police Department not need it.”