Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard is ramping up his efforts to pass a half-cent sales tax that would fund his department and more school resource officers amid growing public apprehension about the proposal.
At a parish-wide school principal's meeting Wednesday, Ard encouraged school leaders to share a Facebook page supporting the tax and post photos of their students interacting with law enforcement officers.
"I've been meeting with all my deputies, and there's 300 of us. There's 3,000 employees of the school system. And they're very competitive. They said they're going to be able to do more than you can for this tax," Ard told the group. "Just saying!"
In a post on his campaign Facebook page Ard addressed what appears to be a growing concern regarding the tax: How much of it will be spent on the school resource officers versus his general operations.
Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard's rough plan for how he would spend a half-cent sales tax targeted at hiring law enforcement officers for …
Ard pointed to a section of the ballot language that says the money will be used exclusively for the operations of the Sheriff's Office, "including, but not limited to, stationing Sheriff deputies in public schools throughout the parish."
"This means the money generated from this tax goes directly to the LPSO SRO program — placing an SRO on every school campus & the ones to be built in the future. I have to use the money for that purpose. It’s guaranteed," Ard said.
The comments section filled rapidly with mixed reactions. Some people said they supported the sheriff and trust him to put the money in the schools. Others said the sheriff was asking for too much money, and they disliked the "including, but not limited to" language because it leaves vague how the money will be spent.
The sheriff's chief finance officer, Jamie Felder, said last month that if the tax passes, Ard plans to hire 55 new deputies so that each of the 45 schools across the parish is staffed with an officer. She estimates that would cost $5.5 million annually, a figure that would reasonably be expected to leave the sheriff from $2.5 million to $3.9 million for general fund expenses each year.
The gunfire was 1,400 miles away, but the impact hit hard for Julian Whittington, sheriff of Bossier Parish.
A political action committee named Safe Schools for Kids has also been formed in support of the proposal. According to disclosures filed Tuesday, the PAC has raised $4,300 from four donors, including the sheriff, Felder, an attorney and one of his deputies.
The PAC has spent about $738 so far on brochures and administrative expenses. Ard said his deputies also plan to make calls from a phone bank in coming weeks.