Woodlawn Estates seeks to form crime prevention district fee, Shenandoah seeks to renew its fee on Nov. 21 ballot _lowres

 

Woodlawn Estates may follow Shenandoah’s lead on Nov. 21 and increase security patrols in its subdivision by taxing itself.

Residents across Baton Rouge have started paying a mandatory fee to finance off-duty sheriff’s deputy patrols of their neighborhoods, cameras at the entrances of their neighborhoods and additional security measures. On election day, Woodlawn Estates, joined by one nearby street called Woodlawn Park, will have the option to become a crime prevention district to increase law enforcement presence. While Woodlawn’s Homeowners’ Association has long been taking dues to pay for patrols, the dues are not mandatory and have not been able to cover the increased security its members want. Shenandoah, which became a crime district five years ago, is up for renewal on the ballot.

Woodlawn Estates and Woodlawn Park have not brought this option to a vote before.

“This is the first time we’ve attempted it,” said Susan Albus, board member of Woodlawn Estates Homeowner’s Association. “We’re going off the fact that there’s been quite a few other subdivisions that have attempted it and been successful.”

Albus, who worked closely with state Rep. Darrell Ourso, R-Baton Rouge, to get the bill on the ballot, said Woodlawn’s Homeowner’s Association had problems collecting enough from the voluntary fees, with the money collected funding only five hours of patrolling per week. Albus said the association tried to gather more financial support and increased dues, but it still wasn’t enough to pay for the desired increase in security.

“After seeing all these other subdivisions and hearing their success about hiring off-duty police patrols, we decided it’d be something we wanted to do before crime became a problem. It’s not a problem now, but we want to keep it that way.”

The district would include about 550 houses, and the initial collection is expected to pull in $79,650.

Outside of paying for an off-duty sheriff’s deputy to patrol more frequently, Albus said, the fees will cover a website for the district to keep residents up to date, tally statistics and set up electronic alert notifications. The money will also go toward a sign at the front of the subdivision, flags for the Fourth of July and possibly social events, expenses that contribute to the “overall betterment of the district,” as described in the proposition.

Nearby Shenandoah, which enacted the bill five years ago, may be extending its district’s life for another eight years.

Ed Campanella, chairman of the subdivision’s Crime Prevention and Improvement District, said statistics have shown the district’s first run was extremely successful, though he did not have numbers immediately available.

“We statically know that it has reduced crime in our particular area,” Campanella said. “We’re trying to be proactive rather than reactive.”

Currently, seven off-duty sheriff’s deputies take turns patrolling Shenandoah an average of six hours per day, though more during the holidays, Campanella said. Shenandoah, one of the largest subdivisions in the state, includes about 2,200 homes and 75 miles of road, he said.

The district charges $50 per lot every year, the majority of which goes toward paying for the patrols. Campanella said up to $150 per lot could be collected, but the current fee has been more than enough. The next collection is expected to pull in $90,000.

In addition to law enforcement presence, the money has gone toward paying for cameras at all 11 entrances of the large neighborhood and even license plate readers. Campanella said the license plate readers recently helped officers find a burglar who broke into one Shenandoah residence.

“We’ve also added a street light ,which cost a good penny, because the city didn’t put it on a bridge where kids crossed the street,” Campanella said.

Some of the funds have gone toward beautification of the neighborhood, though, including more than 2,000 flags for Flag Day through Fourth of July.

Campanella recounted one resident who hung a white sheet with a sign that read “no new taxes” whenever the fee was first proposed. He hasn’t seen that yet this year.

“We all hate taxes,” Campanella said. “Nobody wants to pay taxes. I tell them it’s like a fee, like insurance. You have to keep your neighborhood as safe as it can possibly be to keep your property value up.”

Campanella said the renewal does not include any policy changes other than the fact that it would keep the district active for eight years instead of five, like the last bill.

In both cases, the districts will be managed by a seven-member board made up of four residents nominated by local legislators including the senator and the district representative. The remaining seats will be filled by homeowner’s association members or residents they appoint. All those running the district must live in the subdivision.

Follow Danielle Maddox Kinchen on Twitter, @Dani_Maddox4.