A handful of taxes for recreation and fire prevention will populate the ballot for St. Tammany Parish residents on Saturday. Two parish recreation districts are asking voters in their areas for new taxes, while three fire districts are asking for renewals to help fund operating costs and maintenance.
Of the recreation district tax proposals, the request for 4 mills to help fund a revived Recreation District 10 in and around Covington has drawn the most interest. Three times in the past two decades, most recently in 2004, voters in that area have rejected funding for a recreation district. But supporters of the new measure — including Covington Mayor Mike Cooper and several City Council members — have pointed out that the 4-mill tax proposal is smaller than the three failed attempts.
Further, supporters of the measure say, approval of the tax would allow the district to take over operation of Covington’s recreation facilities, which are in need of repair and, due to city budget constraints, able to offer only limited programming. Cooper said Covington’s recreation offerings pale in comparison to those run by independently funded districts, like Pelican Park in Mandeville and Coquille near Madisonville.
The 4-mill proposal consists of two taxes, both of which must be passed for either to take effect. One is a 2.5-mill tax that would provide an estimated $650,000 per year to finance operations of the district. The second is a 1.5-mill tax to allow the district to issue $5 million in bonds that would fund improvements to the recreation complex. About $4 million of the bond money would go toward building a new gym; the rest would help pay for a football field and a practice field.
“I am cautiously optimistic,” Christopher Brown, a member of the district’s board, said of Saturday’s vote. Brown pointed to support from the city officials and from organizations like the West St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce and the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation, but he is acutely aware of the previous setbacks at the ballot box.
In preparing for this election, officials studied those past defeats and, as a result, were able to change the district’s boundaries to remove certain subdivisions that voted heavily against the 2004 tax proposal. They are now in other recreation districts.
Approval of the 4 mills would mean a homeowner with a homestead exemption whose house is worth $200,000 would pay approximately $50 per year in additional property taxes.
Recreation District 2, which serves the Bush and Sun areas in northeast St. Tammany Parish, also is asking voters for a new tax, but if it passes, voters won’t pay any more taxes than they have been paying, thanks to a reduction of another millage, according to Parish Councilman Richard Tanner.
Recreation District 2 is asking voters to approve a 3.5-mill tax to fund the district’s operations and maintenance of facilities that Tanner said have fallen into disrepair. A previous tax to fund operations and maintenance was allowed to lapse, and voters have several times rejected attempts to revive it, Tanner said. However, the district has been able to reduce its millage for debt service from 4.8 mills to 0.8 mills, meaning voters won’t see an increase in taxes even if they approve the new millage.
“The roof leaks in the gym,” Tanner said. “At one basketball game, the floor started sweating because they weren’t running the AC because they couldn’t afford the electricity.” The district’s only sources of money for operations have been admission charges, concessions and advertising, he added.
“Insurance alone cost them $10,000 per year, and you got to sell a lot of Coca-Colas to make that,” he said. When volunteers got up on the gym’s roof to clean out the gutters, they found pine trees growing in them, Tanner said.
If the tax fails, the district will have to consider shutting its doors. “I don’t know what else they could do,” Tanner said.
In addition to the two recreation districts seeking new millages, three St. Tammany fire districts are asking for 10-year tax renewals, each of about 10 mills for operations and maintenance. Fire District 5, in the northwestern corner of the parish; Fire District 6, which covers an area north of Covington to the parish line; and Fire District 13, near Goodbee, are all asking voters to approve the renewals.