Jefferson Parish voters on Saturday overwhelmingly approved renewing three millages that support drainage, recreation and public schools, as well as a sales tax that provides about $48 million annually for roadwork, drainage and sewerage improvements.
The results put to rest fears that lower voter turnout following last month’s presidential election and the inability of Parish President Mike Yenni to actively promote the parish's renewals might hurt their chances of passing.
The taxes are:
- A 6-mill property tax to finance almost half of the parish Drainage Department's needs. It passed 72 percent to 28 percent.
- A 10-mill property tax that funds 93 percent of the Recreation Department's budget. It passed 72 percent to 28 percent.
- A ⅞-cent sales tax that generates about $48 million annually for roadwork, drainage and sewerage improvements. It passed 68 percent to 32 percent.
- A 4-mill property tax that will provide the Jefferson Parish Public Schools System with about $14 million per year for infrastructure, technology and maintenance for local schools. The 10-year millage, which begins in 2018, passed 69 percent to 31 percent.
The renewals left parish officials breathing a sigh of relief. Many had said they didn't think voters would shoot down renewals so crucial to parish functions that are central to residents' quality of life. Under the circumstances, however, few were willing to take anything for granted.
Yenni’s administration came under a cloud in late September, when it was reported that the FBI was looking into sexually explicit text messages he sent to a 17-year-old boy he first encountered at a high school graduation event. The WWL-TV report also said Yenni went to the mall where the teen worked, bought him designer underwear and kissed him in a restroom.
Yenni initially said nothing after the report aired but soon admitted only to sending “improper texts.” The Parish Council and virtually every other parish elected official then called for his resignation, and a recall petition was launched, though it is still well short of the number of signatures needed to trigger a recall election.
But Yenni has held on, insisting that he can continue to do his job effectively, despite his decision to step back from public and civic events and the Jefferson Parish School Board’s decision to ban him from school campuses.
All of that left many wondering whether the millages would end up being collateral damage at the polls, either from voter backlash or the fact that the parish president was unable to lead the campaign for them.
Keith Conley, Yenni’s top aide, stepped into the breach and promoted the renewals at various functions throughout the parish. A coalition including leaders of the Jefferson Business Council and the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, along with former Parish President Tim Coulon, stepped up to push the millage renewals, while council members did their usual advocacy work.
On the School Board tax, two mills from the tax are set aside for infrastructure improvement projects. One mill is dedicated to technology, and the other mill is for building maintenance.
Advocate staff writer Ramon Antonio Vargas contributed to this report.