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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Council to ask state for approval of tax increase

Council to ask state for approval of tax increase


Lafourche Parish Councilman Jerry Jones’s plan to let residents decide whether to bail out the 2018 garbage contract shortfall failed Tuesday night at a special public meeting. The vote was 4-4, with Corey Perrillioux absent.

Saying that it is “more than fair to bring it back to the voters”, Jones tried to rescind a resolution passed on Thursday March 1 at another special meeting which asks the Louisiana legislature to let Lafourche Parish levy an additional three-tenths of a penny sales tax on garbage.

A 1985 vote of residents, except in Thibodaux, originally allowed a full penny of tax, but so much money was going into the Solid Waste Fund that the Council lowered it to the present seven-tenths.

Over the past 20 years, the seven-tenths proved to be inadequate to support the present garbage contract.

One million dollars of BP money was put into the fund last year to shore it up, and more is needed this year.

Approval of an additional three-tenths tax would not need a public vote since approval was given in 1985. It would however require the blessing of the state legislature.

Three-tenths of a penny equals an additional 0.30 cents of sales tax on a $100 purchase and would be dedicated to the Solid Waste Fund.

But fear that the legislature might not allow Lafourche to add the additional three-tenths sales tax caused some council members to reject the tax idea and opt for a water bill surcharge of as much as $40 monthly, or some other plan, to pay for garbage.

Discussion centered on the “what-ifs”, should the legislature say no.

Solid Waste Director Jerome Danos told the Council that the three-tenths would be adequate to cover the garbage cost for the next few years, but if the doesn’t pass, imposing a user fee would have to go before voters first.

“Lafourche is one of four parishes with a tax for garbage. By state law, to put a user fee requires voter approval,” said Danos.

Danos also told the council that without any action, some form of user fee will be necessary.

“Plan B is the user fee; it always has been. The preferred method would be to reinstate the tax as recommended by the administration. Plan B is a partial user fee, a “hybrid” collection system with a $7 per month fee plus the seven-tenths tax, or repeal the whole tax and go to the voters,” he stated.

Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle said his administration feels the additional tax “should work” to cover the parish’s shortfall of $2.5 million and have little effect on the pocketbooks of citizens. The additional tax would bring in about $2.7 million, he said.

Cantrelle is against the user fee, since it imposes too much of a financial burden on the elderly and disabled, he says.

Financial woes such as the garbage dilemma have forced Cantrelle to make cuts to employee work schedules, and further layoffs are possible.

“It hurts me to cut any employees, but the fact is we are short $2.5 million and, unfortunately, everything (else) is dedicated funds. If we don’t pass this, we’ll be in dire straits.”

Public Works Director James Barnes said that he has informed many of the parish employees that an additional 20 jobs may be cut in the near future if something is not done about the garbage crisis.

Additionally, Cantrelle warned of “dire straits” if the three-tenths doesn’t pass, because most other revenue sources are dedicated funds.

But he did promise to restore the 40-hour week if the tax passes.

“As soon as we pass council, as soon as we pass Baton Rouge, and ya’ll come back and vote for it, as soon as we start collecting it, I’m gonna go back to the 40 hours,” he promised.

The final vote on the resolution saw Michael Gros, Daniel Lorraine, James Bourgeois and Armand Autin vote against rescinding the resolution.

Jerry Jones, Jerry Lafont, Bo Melvin and Luci Sposito voted for the resolution.

Corey Perrillioux was absent.

The deadline for applying to the state is March 15.

The present garbage contract expires on December 31, 2019.