Voters approved two property taxes for the St. George Fire Department on Saturday, breaking a streak of voters rejecting tax increases recently in Baton Rouge and the surrounding parishes.
“We’re pleased the voters have confidence in us to bring their fire department to the next level,” St. George Fire Chief Gerard Tarleton said.
The two separate ballot items called for a 2-mill property tax increase and a 1.25-mill property tax to replace an expiring one. Both will be collected for 10 years.
The 2-mill tax passed by a vote of 58 percent in favor to 42 percent opposed in a low-turnout election that saw only 4 percent of registered voters cast ballots. The vote in favor was 1,459 to 1,074 against.
The 1.25-mill renewal passed by 61 percent to 39 percent, with 1,545 in favor and 996 against.
Tarleton said the St. George Fire Department historically has been able to get in the range of 60 percent voter approval on tax measures it places on the ballot.
“Taxes at no time are popular, new or renewal,” Tarleton said. “At this time, people are very conscious of any taxes they vote for. We’re pleased they look at us in a positive light.”
Tarleton said the extra money from the additional 2-mill tax will allow the Fire Department to hire more firefighters, build new stations, improve water systems and buy new equipment.
Those who live in the 70 square miles that the St. George Fire Protection District covers in the southern and eastern portions of East Baton Rouge will see their property tax bills rise.
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.
Before the increase on ballots, the St. George Fire Department collected 14 mills in property taxes. The department also collects a $32 annual service fee per structure.
Tarleton fought for the property taxes to appear on May ballots after the Metro Council initially did not give the Fire Department permission to call the election. At first, Tarleton proposed one ballot measure that would have combined the tax renewal and increase into one tax over the span of 20 years.
Tarleton has maintained the St. George Fire Department’s tax increases have nothing to do with the movement to create the city of St. George, but some Metro Council members initially worried that the two could interfere with each other.
Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle was concerned that the possible creation of the city of St. George would mean people who live outside the city’s boundaries could be paying a St. George Fire Department tax for 20 years.
The St. George Fire Department revised the ballot item, splitting it up into two and cutting down the time frame, before bringing it back to the Metro Council for the second time.
The council then approved the election.
In recent weeks, the Fire Department held public meetings where they asked members of the public to support the tax.
Metro Councilman Joel Boé asked his constituents to vote in support of it.