Livingston Parish voters approved four property tax renewals Saturday, including a scaled-back version of the Health Unit tax voters rejected in November.
The margin of victory for the Health Unit was significant, with 4,772 votes, or 66 percent, in favor and 2,460 votes against the proposal, according to complete but unofficial returns posted on the secretary of state’s website.
Parish President Layton Ricks said he was elated the measure passed.
“I think going around the parish discussing it for the past couple months made a difference, and people began to realize just how important the Health Unit is and all the services provided through it,” Ricks said.
Asked whether he thought cutting the tax rate in half from its existing rate of 5 mills also played a role, Ricks said, “You know, we told people they would be receiving all the same services for half the amount. Who knows what really struck, but certainly that had to have been part of it.”
Voters on Saturday also approved 10-year renewals of property taxes for school maintenance, the Live Oak sports complex and fire protection in the Holden area. The school maintenance tax was the only measure voters hadn’t rejected this past fall.
Parish leaders had worried that the recent anti-tax trend could mean failure at the polls Saturday for all four proposals.
The most dramatic turnaround was for an 11.1-mill tax for Fire District 10, which covers a large swath of the parish stretching north from Holden to the St. Helena Parish line.
The fire district’s tax proposal garnered 92 percent of the 590 votes cast Saturday — a far cry from December, when the measure failed by only six votes out of 894 cast.
Fire Chief Warren Stewart said Saturday that he had felt certain the tax renewal would pass if they could just explain to residents the importance of the funding and how its loss could affect homeowners.
Stewart had warned voters that rejecting the tax likely would cost residents more money if insurance companies increased their rates or refused to cover them because they don’t have a nearby fire crew.
“We really worked hard to get the word out to everybody, and I think that’s why we knocked it out of the park,” Stewart said.
Parish voters also lent overwhelming support to the public school system, approving renewal of a 7-mill property tax for school maintenance.
Seventy-six percent of the 7,252 votes cast were in favor of the tax, which is projected to raise $3.3 million annually.
Schools Superintendent John Watson said the system was “very blessed and appreciative of the community’s support.
“It’s humbling to know that they trust us to do what’s right with the funds and to use them to take care of the schools and provide a safe atmosphere for our children,” Watson said.
The maintenance tax has been on the books since the 1950s.
Voters also approved a 15-mill tax renewal for Recreation District 2, which operates the Live Oak Sports Complex and the Watson Community Center. The vote was 1,529, or 82 percent, in favor and 335 against.
The tax provides more than 80 percent of the recreation district’s budget, generating an estimated $850,000 annually. The district also receives funding from concessions, rentals, tournament fees and some grants, but those funds barely pay for the programs that help to generate them, board member Lee Hawkins has said.
As for the Health Unit tax, voters rejected a renewal of the existing 5-mill rate in November, after The Advocate reported that the ballot proposition grossly underestimated the revenue the tax would generate.
Parish officials debated for weeks whether to put the tax back up as a 5-mill renewal, despite the health unit’s $6.6 million surplus, or reduce the tax to match the facility’s $1.1 million annual budget. The 2.5-mill rate is projected to generate just under $1.2 million per year.
Councilman Ricky Goff had suggested scaling back the tax while also offering voters an opportunity to support a separate 1-mill tax for parishwide animal control, but those discussions were quickly scuttled out of fear any possible new tax would cause voters to reject the Health Unit tax renewal.
The Health Unit tax provides funding for maintenance and operations at the Health Unit building on Frost Road in Livingston, including 11.5 staff positions, while state and federal funding provides much of the programming and services.
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