This summer's election ballot includes something familiar, the renewal of a property tax that supports the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office operating budget.
The millage — or property tax — has been in place since 1981 and supports roughly 17% of the sheriff’s operating budget, according to EBRSO spokesperson Casey Rayborn Hicks. It is up for renewal every 10 years and has been re-approved three times since its initial adoption.
For a typical homeowner with a house assessed at $50,000, the tax is $18.65 annually. It is often paid as part of a monthly house payment.
The question is on every East Baton Rouge Parish ballot for the July 11 election, and for many voters is the only matter to be decided. Early voting started last month and ends Saturday.
The annual revenue collection ranged between $14.26 million and $16.7 million since 2015. Hicks said the failure to renew the tax would be "detrimental to the department and the ability to protect the community."
The money collected supports all operating activities, including 24-hour patrols, substations across the parish, criminal investigations, apprehending, booking and housing accused criminals in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison and community policing and outreach.
While the revenue helps carry out “normal functions” of the office, those functions involve department growth, from more in-depth training to technology and equipment upgrades “to best serve the community,” Hicks said.
Hicks said the addition of body cameras is not currently part of the plan. Interest in body cameras has grown after recent high-profile deaths, in other states, of people in police custody.
“(We) are looking at options to try to cut costs to make them feasible,” she added. “So technically it could include [body cameras] in the future.”
The Advocate recently reported that outfitting the office and storing the footage is projected to cost anywhere from $3 million to $5 million.
Hicks said should the tax not be renewed, the money would be taken out of the budget, resulting in cuts to services that include the number of deputies who patrol the parish.
As the sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer of the parish, the tax affects everyone in East Baton Rouge, regardless of whether they live in unincorporated areas or a city.
"The sheriff responds to calls, hosts and attends community outreaches and conducts proactive enforcement efforts throughout the entire parish regardless of city jurisdictions," Hicks said.
Gary Bennett, assistant director with the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, said almost every parish in Louisiana has an ad valorem tax like the one East Baton Rouge residents will vote on, which is a main source of revenue for the sheriff’s office.
“It’s very important to the sheriff that this be maintained, very critical,” Bennett said.
The ballot question, as it appears before voters:
Shall the Law Enforcement District of the Parish of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana (the "District") be authorized to continue to levy and collect, and adopt a resolution providing for such levy and collection, of a special ad valorem tax of three and seventy-three hundredths (3.73) mills on the dollar of assessed valuation of all property subject to taxation within the boundaries of the Parish of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana (the "Tax") (an estimated $16,386,290 reasonably expected at this time to be collected from the levy of the tax for an entire year) for a period of ten (10) years, beginning with the tax collection for the year 2021, and annually thereafter to and including the year 2030, with the proceeds of said Tax to be used for operational purposes of the District?