Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni used much of his first “State of the Parish” speech Tuesday to urge that residents approve a set of local taxes coming up for renewal, arguing that the taxes are needed for the parish to continue to invest in infrastructure and public services.
Six months after taking office, the former mayor of Kenner offered an overwhelmingly upbeat take on the region’s trajectory. Crime is down, there’s new federal money for education and local businesses are investing, he told a crowd of a few hundred at Kenner’s Chateau Country Club.
But the parish won’t continue to grow and prosper without public resources, he warned.
"Our upcoming millage renewals ... are vital to parish development,” Yenni said, urging members of the Kenner Business Association, which hosted the event, and other leaders to rally support for the proposed tax continuations. "Millages like these made the developments that took place over the past decades possible."
The taxes in question for years have funded parish drainage infrastructure, road repairs, recreation programs and libraries. They include three different property taxes and a ⅞-cent sales tax.
The property taxes will sunset this year or next unless renewed, while the sales tax isn’t due to expire until 2022. Yenni and other parish officials are pushing to have all of them extended by several years on the Dec. 10 ballot, saying their expiration would make it very difficult -- if not impossible -- to maintain the level of services local residents have come to expect.
In the meantime, Yenni cited a long list of things that he said have been going right for Jefferson lately.
He pointed to a $34.5 million federal grant to help educate pre-kindergarten students from low-income families; a $360 million expansion planned by the local medical giant Ochsner Health Systems in Old Jefferson; and the possibility that the Port of New Orleans may convert the 260-acre former site of Avondale Shipyard, which closed in 2014, into a cargo terminal.
Last year, Yenni noted, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office reported its lowest crime rate since 1974.
“This is only the first six months,” he said. “Imagine the next few years.”
He concluded by lamenting the deadly violence that recently has claimed the lives of law enforcement officers in Baton Rouge, Jefferson Parish and elsewhere.
Last month, Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Deputy David F. Michel Jr. was fatally shot as he tried to conduct a pedestrian stop in Harvey. His accused killer has been jailed.
"Officers like (Michel) and the many others who have recently been harmed or lost their lives were judged not by the good they have done but by the faults of others," Yenni said. "We need to sustain hope so that in this time of evil acts we stand as a united front."