West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Mike Cazes is getting pushback from local industry and the Tea Party of Louisiana over the half-cent sales tax he’s hoping voters will approve in Saturday’s election.
Cazes has said previously he would have to cut back, or eliminate, several programs and public services his office provides to make up for the more than $6 million budget shortfall his office has been grappling with each year.
But naysayers claim the sheriff is exaggerating his financial woes and has more areas to cut before asking for more taxes.
“We love you, but you have to live within your means, just like we do!” Tea Party of Louisiana spokesman Bob Reid said in a recent news release.
If approved Saturday, the sales tax would take West Baton Rouge Parish’s sales tax rate to 9.5 percent — higher than any adjacent parish, Reid pointed out.
Reid and the Tea Party believe a higher sales tax rate would kill the parish’s ability to attract big-box retail and send residents to neighboring parishes to shop.
“Tax increases always cause people to change their behavior,” Reid said.
The Tea Party also questioned the surplus Cazes bragged about during his re-election campaign.
“This was one of Sheriff Mike’s main arguments in support of his re-election,” the news release says. “Why does he now claim to need more money? Doesn’t add up.”
Speaking on the sheriff’s behalf last week, Col. Richie Johnson defended the tax proposal, saying Cazes wasn’t lying about the surplus and that Cazes is just trying to prepare for its eventual depletion.
“This surplus is not going to last,” Johnson said. “We’re taking from it every year. We took $1 million out of it last year to cover what the parish didn’t collect for us in ad valorem taxes.
“What do you do? Wait until you’re out of money to ask for a tax?”
The Sheriff Office’s surplus sits at about $2 million, Johnson said.
Cazes’ tax proposal, which is the only item on Saturday’s ballot in West Baton Rouge, is also getting slammed by Dow Louisiana Operations, one of the largest employers in the parish.
A recent memo from Site Director Eduardo Do Val reveals Dow has asked its employees living in the parish to vote against the half-cent sales tax, which is expected to generate approximately $2.9 million a year in additional money for the Sheriff’s Office.
Do Val says in the memo that the tax proposal would end up costing Dow an additional $500,000 annually to operate in West Baton Rouge Parish.
“We understand the increasing demand on public safety in our community (but) the amount companies are paying in taxes has grown as well,” Do Val wrote. “Based on Dow’s expiring property tax exemption, the WBR Parish Sheriff’s Office is projected to receive approximately $242,000 more in 2015 from Dow alone.”
“That money is a result of an existing property tax millage dedicated to operation of the parish jail,” he added.
However, officials with the parish Assessor’s Office place Dow’s additional contribution to the Sheriff’s Office next year somewhere about $13,000 when the plan’s current 10-year property tax exemption expires.
Dow spokesman Stacey Chiasson said a discrepancy on the company’s property tax exemption may be the cause of the different revenue estimates.
“We will go back and look at those renditions again,” she said in an email Friday. “However, Dow will pay additional property taxes in West Baton Rouge Parish as the exemptions expire this year.”
Cazes has said property tax exemptions granted to all the industrial plants in the parish are partially to blame for his office’s financial struggles.
The sheriff said previously that for the past decade, he has had to use self-generated revenue and federal grants to supplement budget shortfalls driven by the rising costs of equipment and increased personnel to keep up with the parish’s 25 percent population growth since 1992.
“Industry gets a 10-year hiatus from paying property taxes when they come to the parish,” Johnson said. “They should be 100 percent behind our proposal because they don’t ‘pay to play’ for 10 years.”
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.