The ballot for the election to be held on March 25, 2017 includes the following four (4) very important tax renewals:
a. Road District 40 Ad Valorem tax
b. Parish Health Unit Ad Valorem tax
c. Parish Buildings Ad Valorem tax
d. Parish Library Ad Valorem tax
While all 4 taxes impact large segments of the population in the Parish, the Road District 40 tax is the one that impacts virtually everyone. The amount of the tax is 5 mills and it generates a little more than $1,000,000 per year for the highway department. This amount represents almost 40% of the total annual revenues the department receives from all sources.
We all know the problems we have in trying to maintain our Parish roads with the funds we have now. Just consider how much harder it will be if we lose 40% of our funds for operations. If that happens, there a major reduction in the amount of work we can do.
There are approximately 1000 roads in the Parish road maintenance inventory. The department has a total of 18 employees, including field workers, shop mechanics and office staff. In the 1980s, the highway department had over 100 employees to maintain basically the same mileage of roads. As costs increased faster than revenues, the Police Jury reduced the size of the department.
It is a common misconception that the Parish has a lot of money for road work and that it must be going somewhere else. If you check the highway department budget, you will find that it receives the $1,000,000 from the road tax, and about $1,600,000 from a number of other sources. The other sources include about $800,000 from state and federal sources, $500,000 from Parish sales tax and various other smaller amounts.
This appears to be a lot of money and it is, if one were building a house or an office building. Constructing and repairing roads takes a lot more money. For instance, to build or reconstruct a road base and overlay it with asphalt typically costs about $250,000 to $300,000 per mile of road. Similarly, the construction of a gravel road could cost about $60,000 to $70,000 per mile.
The problem has been that highway funds have remained fairly steady over the years while the costs to run the department have increased dramatically. The fastest growing cost contributor has been the cost of health insurance for employees and retirees. Other costs (such as fuel, tires and rock) have risen faster than the funds needed to purchase them. When costs outrun revenues, the highway department has to cut expenditures to keep a balanced budget. That means cutting road maintenance.
We understand the frustration of Parish residents over the poor condition of most of our roads. No one likes a bumpy ride or having to make frequent repairs to their vehicles. Choosing to express one’s frustration by voting against the renewal of a tax, however, is not going to help the situation. In fact, it will only make things worse.
On March 25, 2017, the people of the Parish will have the opportunity to choose between two paths. One is to support the highway department efforts by voting to renew the tax. The other is to withdraw a major funding source of the department by defeating the tax renewal. If that happens, it will accelerate the decline in our roads and the quality of life of our people.
The choice belongs to the voters. We can only hope that they will appreciate the importance of their votes on the future of our Parish.