Livingston Parish officials ask voters to take another look at three taxes rejected in 2014 _lowres

Livingston Parish Health Unit

Three Livingston Parish tax renewals that were rejected in 2014 elections are going back before voters on the May 2 ballot.

The parish health unit, Live Oak Sports Complex and Holden-area fire department are all asking voters to reconsider their funding requests.

Also on the ballot will be a Livingston School Board tax renewal, which seeks to continue collecting a decades-old maintenance millage that could be in jeopardy if the recent anti-tax trend continues.

The 2.5-mill property tax to support the parish health unit is a scaled-back version of an existing 5-mill tax that expires this year. The tax provides funding for maintenance and operations at the health unit building, including 11.5 staff positions, while state and federal funding provides much of the programming and services.

Voters rejected a 10-year renewal of the 5-mill rate in November, after The Advocate reported that the 2014 proposed tax would generate three times the revenue stated on that month’s ballot. After that defeat at the polls, parish officials debated for weeks whether to put the millage back on the ballot as another 5-mill renewal, despite the health unit’s $6.6 million surplus, or reduce the tax to match the facility’s funding needs.

Councilman Ricky Goff had suggested trimming down the tax to 2 mills, while offering voters a chance to support a separate 1-mill tax for parishwide animal control. But the council as a whole expressed concern about reducing the millage below what was necessary to cover the health unit’s $1.1 million annual budget. The 2.5-mill rate is projected to generate nearly $1.2 million per year.

Goff had placed an item on Thursday’s council agenda to discuss seeking a separate animal control tax in October. But Parish President Layton Ricks said he had the item removed out of concern that discussions of a possible new tax would overwhelm voters at a time when they are being asked to approve four tax renewals.

Goff later said he remained committed to finding a way to fund parishwide animal control, but he wanted to ensure the health unit tax passed first.

Ricks said Friday that he and the council unanimously support reducing the health unit millage to give money back to parish residents while providing the same services.

“This funding is absolutely necessary to maintain the health unit, which provides everything from immunizations and family planning services to health inspections of restaurants,” he said.

The parish School Board’s tax is the only one on the May ballot that didn’t fail last year. The board is seeking to renew a 10-year, 7-mill property tax that would raise approximately $3.3 million annually.

The tax covers between 50 percent and 80 percent of the school system’s maintenance budget every year. Should the tax fail, the school system will have to pay for plumbing upgrades, air conditioner replacement and other projects another way, but the School Board hasn’t determined from where it will draw funding.

Some projects simply can’t be put off, because if facilities fall into disrepair, “it ends up costing you more later on,” School Board Vice President Buddy Mincey said.

The tax, which school leaders said has been on the books since the 1950s, seems like less of a guarantee this year with the recent failures of other renewals.

“I’m not going to say I’m not concerned ... (but) I still rely on the people of this parish. They know what’s right and wrong,” Board President Malcolm Sibley said.

Recreation District 2 is again seeking renewal of the 15-mill property tax that funds the Live Oak Sports Complex and Watson Community Center. The 10-year tax is projected to generate nearly $850,000 annually — more than 80 percent of the recreation district’s budget.

“Without this funding, we will have to shut down everything,” board member Lee Hawkins said in a written statement. “We would not be able to maintain our facilities or the many youth sports programs that we provide to the community.”

The district also receives revenues from concessions, rentals, tournament fees and some grants, Hawkins said. “But basically those extra dollars barely pay for the programs that help to generate them.”

Several local schools depend on the facilities, and the sports complex is home to the Live Oak High School Eagles’ baseball and softball teams.

“Our complex is truly a centerpiece for this community,” Hawkins said. “It’s important that we maintain the funding needed to keep our park and our many community programs.”

Fire District 10 lost its funding in the December election by six votes out of 894 cast. Now, the district, which includes a large swath of the parish in the Holden area, is trying again to re-up its 11.1 millage, which covers everything from equipment to insurance to training.

Without the tax, Chief Warren Stewart said, the local volunteer fire stations will run out of money in a matter of months. That means people trapped in a car after a wreck or whose property goes up in flames may watch critical minutes tick by waiting for a crew from farther away to arrive.

Voting against the tax will likely cost residents more money if insurance companies increase their rates or refuse to cover them because they don’t have a nearby fire crew, the chief said.

“Don’t take our word for it. ... Call your insurance company and ask them what’s gonna happen if we close the doors,” Stewart said.

Taxing bodies must wait six months before bringing an unsuccessful tax proposal back before voters, according to state law. However, there is an exception for authorities that declare an “emergency,” though Louisiana statute does not define what constitutes an emergency.

Follow Steve Hardy, @SteveR Hardy, and Heidi R. Kinchen, @HeidiRKinchen, on Twitter.