West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Mike Cazes says he might have to cut back, or eliminate, several programs and public services his office provides if voters on March 28 balk at his attempt to pass a half-cent sales tax.
Cazes said he needs the $2.9 million the proposed tax would generate annually to address the more than $6 million shortfall he’s been facing every year in his $12.9 million operating budget for the Sheriff’s Office.
The new revenue would also be allocated toward operation expansions and equipment and technology improvements for his employees.
“I have to have this tax. This is the fairest way to raise the revenue we need to keep the Sheriff’s Office operating at level we are now,” Cazes said Tuesday. “I’ve been living within my means for the last 20 years. But we have to continue to keep up with the growth of this parish.”
The West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, which employs 225 people, receives a majority of its annual funding from a 16.1-mill property tax which generates about $6.3 million each year.
But unlike many law enforcement districts in surrounding parishes, the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have a dedicated sales tax generating revenue for law enforcement.
Cazes complains that despite being a parish rich in industrial revenues, his office is getting shortchanged out of a lot of needed income due to tax exemptions enjoyed by most of the industrial plants located in the parish.
West Baton Rouge Assessor Barney “Frog” Altazan says about 80 percent of the parish’s total ad valorem revenue is generated by the industrial sector.
Altazan’s records show that, even with the tax exemptions, in 2014, the top 10 ad valorem revenue generators in West Baton Rouge Parish added about $15.3 million to parish coffers.
However, those funds are split between the Parish Council, School Board, Sheriff’s Office, Atchafalaya Basin Levee District and the parish’s Drainage District.
Cazes says for the past decade he has had to use self-generated revenue and federal grants to supplement budget shortfalls that have been driven by the rising costs of equipment and increased personnel to keep up with the parish’s 25 percent population growth since 1992.
The sheriff says service calls to his department have increased annually from 2,500 to more than 10,000 calls within the past 20 years.
The half-cent sales tax proposal, if approved would start being levied on all taxable goods in the parish on July 1. The tax is the only thing West Baton Rouge Parish voters will see on the March 28 ballot.
The sheriff has spent the last four months getting his proposal ready to go before voters after having held two public hearings and gaining approval from the Louisiana Bond Commission.
This will mark Cazes’ second attempt in 10 years to get a tax approved by parish voters.
According to election records, 62 percent of West Baton Rouge voters in Nov. 2005 shot down Cazes’ attempt to pass a 5-mill, 10-year property tax.
Should history repeat itself, the sheriff said, he might have to cut back on security patrols at local schools, traffic details, litter control and many of the community outreach programs like his Anti-Drug Education, AARP safe driving and hunters safety classes.
“The costs of our law enforcement initiatives and general public safety programs have increased at a much greater rate than the revenue we have to support them,” he said. “To fight the kind of crime we fight today it takes more.”
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Editor’s note: This article was changed on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015, to reflect that service calls to the sheriff’s office have increased over the past 20 years from 2,500 calls annually to more than 10,000 calls.