The St. George Fire Protection District is asking voters on Saturday to approve a property tax increase and renew another property tax to replace an expiring one.
Voters will see two separate ballot items — the tax replacement of 1.25 mills and the tax increase of 2 mills — both of which would be collected for the next decade. St. George Fire Chief Gerard Tarleton said the extra money would allow the department to build new stations, hire more firefighters, make water system improvements and buy new equipment.
“These improvements will push us to the next level,” Tarleton said. The St. George Fire Department has the second highest fire department rating of Class 2, but Tarleton said the improvements paid for by the additional tax money will allow them to make the Fire Department a Class 1.
Home insurance premiums are tied, in part, to a department’s rating.
The St. George Fire Department’s current millage is 14 mills, broken up into five different taxes. The department also collects a $32 annual service fee per structure.
If the renewal and increase are approved, residents with $200,000 houses that take the homestead exemption would see fire department tax bills rise to $200 a year from $175 annually. Residents with $250,000 homestead exempt homes would pay $280 instead of $245.
The St. George Fire Protection District struggled to get the taxes on the ballot for the May election, as the Metro Council initially rejected adding them to ballots.
At first, the St. George Fire Department’s tax proposal combined the renewal and increase into one 20-year millage. Some Metro Council members complained about the lengthy time period, while others said they wanted voters to have the option to support the tax renewal but not an increase.
The Fire Department returned to the Metro Council a few weeks later with a redrafted tax proposal, splitting the renewal and increase into two ballot items and cutting down the tax to 10 years. The Metro Council approved the second version.
The Fire Department has held public meetings over the past couple of weeks to generate support for the tax. Councilman Joel Boé attended a meeting at Jones Creek Regional Branch Library, and he said he wanted his constituents to support the taxes.
“If I could vote for it, I would 100 percent,” Boé said. He lives right outside the boundaries that the St. George Fire Protection District covers, though most of his constituents reside within the boundaries.
The St. George Fire Protection District covers 70 square miles in the southern and eastern portions of East Baton Rouge Parish.
Shenandoah resident Rita Jarreau, who was at the Jones Creek meeting, said she was unsure before the meeting if she would support the taxes, but was decidedly in favor of them by the end of the meeting.
“It sounds like a good deal,” she said after Tarleton said that having a Class 1 rating will bring down homeowners’ insurance bills.
Tarleton noted that tax increases in the Baton Rouge area have not been successful during recent elections. For example, voters rejected sales tax increases at the end of March for the Zachary School System and for the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office.
“I won’t say it’s worrying us, but it’s a matter of concern,” Tarleton said about the anti-tax sentiments. But he said there is never a good time to ask for a tax increase.
Polls open at 7 a.m. Saturday, with voting held until 8 p.m.