St. Tammany Parish voters will decide Saturday whether to give another chance to a pair of sales tax renewals for the parish jail and courthouse, the highest-profile items among seven issues on the ballot.
The renewals ran into an anti-tax buzzsaw last year, when 60 percent of voters rejected a quarter-cent sales tax for the jail and 62 percent said no to a quarter cent for the St. Tammany Parish Justice Center.
Parish officials have retooled both taxes, cutting them to 1/5 of a cent each and reducing them from 20 years to 10. That means a smaller revenue stream — $9.5 million each a year instead of $11.3 million.
A portion of the revenue from the Justice Center tax will also be dedicated to specialty courts in the 22nd Judicial District, including a sobriety court, behavioral health court and the newest, a veterans court.
Judges have been making the rounds at public meetings to tout the value of the specialty courts as tools for preventing recidivism.
The sales tax renewals have received support from business groups that have called them necessary services and important for public safety. The group Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany is opposing them, saying that spending reductions should be considered first.
The two sales taxes are not the only do-overs on the ballot. Recreation District No. 7, which serves the area north of Pearl River, is trying for a third time to get voters to approve a millage for its operations.
Voters rejected a 3.98-mill property tax renewal for its 70-acre facility in May and November 2015.
This time, the district is seeking a 10-year, 3.50-mill tax that would generate $125,000 a year.
Earl Graves, who serves on the district commission, said the district has had to dip into reserves that had been set aside for expanding facilities. That amount, which had been $500,000, is now just over $400,000. The district started charging a $1 admission fee for spectators and added a $5 registration fee for children who live outside the district. Those fees and fundraisers have helped, but Graves said the recreation facility, Poitevent Park, still needs a source of income to continue operating.
The park is heavily used, he said. On Tuesday night alone, about 300 to 400 children were on hand to play on its four fields. The commission also has plans to add two soccer fields that could eventually be used for football and hopes to add sand volleyball courts and other amenities.
Elsewhere, St. Tammany Recreation District No. 14, which serves Madisonville, Goodbee, parts of unincorporated Covington and the southern part of Folsom, has two items on the ballot: a 10-year, 4.93-mill property tax to pay for operations and maintenance of Coquille Park and a $7.8 million bond issue to pay for improvements.
Executive Director Richard T. Bentley-Smith said the district's youth sports programs serve 3,500 children per year, and the facilities also are used by schools, accounting for another 1,500 youth. Adult programs draw more than 500 participants, and the park also hosts special events, including Madisonville's July 4 celebration.
The millage would bring in about $1.25 million annually, Bentley-Smith said. The district is reducing the amount of the renewal from 5 mills, he said.
The bond issue would be used to build additional fields, a rental facility and a waterfront area for kayaking and paddleboats. It would also pay for parking, additional restrooms and a new entrance and exit to La. 1077.
Fire Protection District No. 3, which serves the Lacombe area, is seeking the renewal of a 10-year, 9.94-mill property tax that generates about $462,000 a year.
Fire Chief Patrick Sicard said the tax, which pays operating costs, is more important than ever for the district since the closure of the Louisiana Heart Hospital, the largest source of property taxes in the district. The district also is home to several large public facilities that are exempt from property taxes.
The district also is responsible for protecting a nursing home, a number of churches and the Folgers distribution center, Sicard said.
Finally, two lighting districts have propositions on the ballot as well. Road Lighting District No. 14, which covers the Ashton Oaks subdivision, has a $150 annual service charge on the ballot, and Lighting District No. 6 is seeking a 10-year, 2.15-mill tax.
Registrar of Voters Dwayne Wall is projecting a 10 percent to 20 percent turnout of St. Tammany's 170,200 registered voters. During early voting, 5,091 people cast ballots, he said.