Former longtime Tangipahoa Parish President Gordon Burgess died early Wednesday morning in Texas. He was 84, having served three decades as parish president.
"Gordon Burgess dedicated his life to the people of Tangipahoa Parish and the communities that they call home," Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement Wednesday. "He was a dedicated public servant who restored the public's trust back into parish government and led Tangipahoa through its most prosperous times," .
Burgess has been credited with "saving Tangipahoa Parish from bankruptcy," said Tangipahoa Parish Finance Director Jeff McKneely
First elected in 1986 to a one-year term after Tangipahoa Parish went to a home rule charter form of government, Burgess went on to serve seven consecutive full terms, choosing in 2015 not to seek re-election. His final term in office expired Jan. 11, 2016.
Burgess faced opposition in every election, McKneely said.
McKneely, who joined the parish government in 1993, said that when Burgess first came into office, the parish, coming out of its police jury system, was "absolutely broke," due to changes in federal funding that affected state funding to local governments. The parish government had a deficit of nearly $4 million.
“I met with everyone — governors, lawmakers, experts. They were all shocked to see just how bad things were,” Burgess said in a 2015 interview with The Advocate. “The parish voted to declare bankruptcy.”
The parish was able to pass a 1 percent sales tax in 1989, with 75 percent going to road maintenance and the remainder going to all the basic government functions — the jail, Clerk of Court's Office, District Attorney's Office and the Coroner's Office, McKneely said.
There was — and is — an unusual aspect to the sales tax. It's only for four years and has been renewed by voters ever since.
Burgess was "best known as a 'pay as you go' elected official," McKneely said, and a four-year sales tax is difficult to borrow against, with only four years available to repay the loan.
Burgess is survived by his wife, Margaret Burgess; son, Wade Burgess, and daughter-in-law, Amy Burgess, and grandson, Alex Burgess.
The McKneely Funeral Home in Amite is handling the funeral service arrangements.