The Livingston Parish Council will decide Thursday whether a health unit tax proposal should be for 5 mills or less, and if voters in May should be asked to dedicate a millage to pay for animal control.
Parish voters rejected a renewal of the health unit’s 10-year, 5-mill tax in November, with 57 percent voting against it.
The tax, if renewed at that rate, would generate about $2.3 million per year, according to the parish Assessor’s Office, but the November ballot proposition said the annual revenue would be only $762,782. The Advocate exposed the multimillion-dollar error the week before the election.
Parish officials have debated whether to put the millage back on the ballot as a renewal of the 5-mill tax, changing only the revenue estimate to the correct figure, or scale back the tax proposal because of the health unit’s $6.6 million — and growing — surplus.
A majority of council members appeared to agree to the 5-mill renewal option at the Jan. 8 council meeting. Council Chairman Chance Parent said Wednesday the majority’s position is unlikely to change Thursday night.
But Councilman Ricky Goff, a proponent of scaling back the millage, said he would like to see the tax cut by more than half to reduce the surplus. He also wants to offer voters a separate option to fund parishwide animal control.
Parish President Layton Ricks said Wednesday he would support the council’s decision either to renew the tax at 5 mills or lower it, as long as the millage remained high enough to cover the health unit’s annual budget and maintain its surplus.
Whatever the council decides Thursday night will be put in the form of a ballot proposition, which the council would then vote Feb. 12 to place on the May 2 ballot.
Parent said changing the proposition from 5 mills to anything else would require it to be balloted as a new tax, rather than a renewal, and “most people already don’t trust parish government and are voting down taxes.”
Parent said the tax could be levied at a lower amount after it is renewed.
He suggested the council may want to levy the tax at a rate just above what the health unit needs to operate, adding a little to the surplus each year for building maintenance or emergencies.
“I think we’re at a point where it’s enough, but what if we have some type of outbreak?” Parent said. “What if we have a West Nile outbreak?”
Goff said the surplus is “ridiculously high” already and the tax should be scaled back to more closely match the health unit’s funding needs. He has suggested 2 mills, which would generate about $920,000 per year.
The health unit’s annual budget is just under $1.1 million. Meanwhile, the tax has generated over $2 million per year for the past three years, parish records show.
Each year, the bulk of the difference was added to the health unit’s surplus, while a small portion went toward paying down the facility’s construction debt.
The final debt payment was put aside in 2014 for payment this March, leaving nearly $1 million to be added to the surplus this year, according to the parish budget.
Goff also suggested offering residents an opportunity to vote on a 1-mill parishwide animal control tax. The animal control and scaled-back health unit taxes would provide residents with more services and a tax break at the same time, he said.
“No one has come up with a solution to fund animal control,” Goff said. “I’m offering one.”
Parent said he cannot support a tax proposal that would underfund the health unit and dig into the surplus.
The council meets at 6 p.m. in council chambers, 20355 Government Blvd., Livingston.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen. Contact her by phone at (225) 336-6981.