The Zachary School Board is asking voters on Saturday to approve an additional 1 percent sales tax, and the superintendent says their highly touted schools will suffer if it doesn’t pass.
Zachary schools already collect 2 percent in sales taxes and 79.2 mills in property taxes, but Superintendent Scott Devillier said the school district has faced budget problems over the past several years and needs more money. He attributed the obstacles to lapses in state funding and soaring costs for employees’ insurance and retirement.
If the tax passes, the city of Zachary would have one of the highest sales taxes in the state. The city’s sales tax is 9 percent and the proposed sales tax, which has no expiration date, would give the School Board the authority to raise the sales tax to 10 percent.
“The things that we were able to provide for our teachers, for our kids, those things that separated us — we don’t have those funds any more,” Devillier said. “So we have to make tough decisions whether we cut those things out or go to the public and ask for more money.”
If voters reject the tax increase on Saturday, programs on the chopping block are music classes, art classes, remediation classes and athletic programs, Devillier said. He said hiring specialized teachers and coaches costs more money than the school district has, especially because 80 percent of the school district’s budget consists of salaries and benefits.
Though the proposition asks voters to approve a 1 percent sales tax increase, the School Board intends to only collect 75 percent of the 1 cent tax. Doing so would generate more than $3.3 million for the district, whose 2013-14 total revenue was more than $50.8 million.
If voters agree to the new tax, the School Board will vote in April on the amount to collect up to 1 percent.
New tax revenue would go toward general operations for the schools. One existing sales tax and two property taxes provide money for general operations, while the other sales tax is split between operations and educational facilities. In addition, one of Zachary’s three property taxes goes toward paying off debt service for new school buildings.
Devillier said the proposed 1 percent sales tax has no expiration date because its purpose of paying for operations will always exist.
“If you’re doing it for something that’s not going to be in perpetuity, you know when that will be paid off,” he said. “There will always be an operational cost that we have for the district.”
Property owners in the East Baton Rouge Parish school district pay 43.45 mills, while in Zachary, property owners pay 79.2 mills, but the two school districts collect the same 2 percent in sales taxes.
West Feliciana Schools collect a 3 cent sales tax, while Central Schools collect a 2.5 cent sales tax.
The Zachary schools tax increase may be a tough sell with voters. The board has held several public meetings and also has been communicating about the proposed tax increase through social media. Members of the public weighing in asked for breakdowns of the school district’s revenues and questioning how they compared to other school districts.
“If the sales tax is increased it will hurt all retail business in Zachary,” wrote Ray Fisher in a letter to the editor in the Zachary Post. “... I am retired and on a fixed income and when our expenses get more than our income, we cut back!”
Devillier said they explained at meetings how expenditures have ballooned from $35 million to $53 million over the past seven years.
“People came and said they didn’t want to pay more taxes,” he said. “When we finished our explanation of why, most people left saying, ‘I understand, and I understand why you need more money.’ ”
The polls open at 7 a.m. and stay open until 8 p.m. Saturday.