LIVINGSTON — Livingston Parish officials appear poised to send the parish’s health unit millage back to the ballot in May as a renewal, despite the health unit’s growing surplus.
The council is slated to vote on the proposal Feb. 12, but a majority appeared to reach an agreement Thursday night that the 10-year, 5-mill property tax renewal that voters defeated in November should not be reduced before going back to the ballot, even though the tax would generate twice as much revenue as the health unit needs.
Parish President Layton Ricks said the millage could be rolled back to reduce its revenue after voters approve the renewal.
Voters defeated the tax’s renewal in November, with 57 percent voting no, after The Advocate exposed an error in the proposition language. The ballot measure said the tax would generate $762,782 annually, but the Assessor’s Office estimated the tax’s worth at three times that amount — about $2.3 million per year.
The health unit’s annual budget is $1.1 million, according to parish finance records.
Ricks previously suggested putting the tax back on the ballot at 5 mills, changing only the revenue estimate to the correct $2.3 million figure. But Thursday night, Ricks recommended instead reducing the proposal to 3 mills, citing the difficulty of getting any taxes — renewals or not — passed in Livingston Parish.
Ricks said he would not recommend dropping the tax below 3 mills, as Councilman Ricky Goff had suggested to reduce the surplus. Ricks said the surplus should remain untouched in case of future emergencies.
Councilman Jim Norred said he agrees with Ricks about the surplus but does not think the millage rate should be reduced. Norred said the parish’s population growth may require building another health unit in the future.
Councilman Chance Parent, elected chairman Thursday night, said reducing the millage also would require balloting the measure as a new tax, rather than a renewal, and suggested voters would be less likely to approve a “new” tax.
Ricks agreed with both councilmen and said he would not oppose placing the item back on the ballot as a renewal at 5 mills.
Council members Sonya Collins and Delos Blackwell also voiced support for keeping the tax proposal at 5 mills. Collins made a motion, seconded by Norred, to set the proposed tax at that rate, but Collins withdrew the motion after a discussion about whether the council had given proper public notice to take action on the matter Thursday night.
Goff reiterated his concerns about the health unit’s surplus and suggested reducing the proposal to 2.5 mills, but he appeared to be in the minority.
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