The recent NPJ articles concerning the proposed one-half cent tax dedicated to Parish road repairs and improvements have drawn a number of comments from NPJ readers. The proposed tax is crucial to our effort to keep our roads passable and it is great to see so much interest in the tax election.
By means of this letter, we will attempt to address the points raised in the comments posted in the NPJ.
1. 100% of tax revenues should be spent on Parish roads:
We agree totally. The language of the ballot proposition requires that all tax revenue collected must be spent on Parish roads and bridges. It would be illegal to spend any of the money anywhere else.
2. None of the tax money should be spent inside of the City:
None of the road tax revenues can be spent inside of the City of Natchitoches or the Town of Campti. The reason is that both of these municipalities are already at the maximum sales tax permitted by state law and the tax will not be collected on sales in them.
3. The people need transparency on how the taxes are spent:
We agree totally. The Parish is committed to posting on its website the amount of tax revenue collected and how the money is being spent. In addition, all revenues and expenditures are included in the Parish accounting system and are audited by an independent auditor and by the state legislative auditor each year. The Parish budget for all departments has been added to the information on our web page and is available for viewing under the Finance Department.
4. Why not rededicate certain existing property taxes?
The rededication of property taxes presently going to other parish public entities would require the Parish Council to place the rededications on the ballot and it would have to be approved by the voters.
The rededication of taxes going to state entities (such as the Cane River Waterway District and the Red River Waterway Commission) would require a change in the state law that authorizes the tax. In addition, the RRWC is a seven-parish entity and it would be very difficult to get special tax treatment for one parish without affecting the tax situation in the other parishes. Without an agreement reached by all seven parishes, you could end up with a legislative battle pitting one parish or group of parishes against the others. This type of situation could result with no action being taken.
5. Why not a property tax rather than a sales tax?
The Parish Council chose to offer the voters a sales tax rather than a property tax. The primary reason appeared to be the fact that only about 50% of the residents of the Parish pay property taxes and everyone will pay sales taxes, even visitors to our Parish.
6. Why not do away with the industrial tax exemptions?
For decades industrial tax exemptions have been granted as incentives to companies to locate a new business here or expand an existing business in our area. They were typically for a 10-year period, after which the Parish began to collect the new taxes. In the past two years, the rules have changed to allow local government to decide whether to grant the exemption and how much of the tax should be exempted for the first 10 years. They also place an 80% cap of the amount of tax that can be exempted. In other words, the industry would pay at least 20% of the tax up front and 100% later. When a local government entity grants a tax exemption, it is not giving away tax dollars it is already receiving. It is accepting a lower tax payment for a set period of years in order to collect higher taxes down the road. In the meantime, the area gets the benefit of job growth and other economic impacts.
7. Why not use the “big truck tax” on road repairs?
The Parish does not receive any taxes collected from owners of big trucks. It does receive funds through the Parish Transportation Fund from the state in the amount of approximately $525,000 per year and these dollars are spent on our roads. The Parish also receives approximately $2,000,000 per year from the one-cent sales tax dedicated to solid waste and highways. Of this amount, $500,000 is spent on road repairs.
In addition, the Parish receives about $400,000 per year in severance tax funds from the state. Many years ago, the former Police Jury adopted a policy of using these funds to pay for some of the high cost of the public safety program and other Parish requirements. This includes the judicial system and the cost of incarceration of inmates at the detention center. Due to the high cost of required public safety programs and other mandated programs, the Parish has not been able to move the severance tax funds to the highway department.
8. Why not cut the fat in the Parish budget?
Going through the budget for ways to cut expenses is a regular part of the job of the Parish administration. No matter how much is cut, we look for ways to be more cost effective in what we do. One way administrative expenses have been cut is in the reduction in the general staff. In 2012, the last year under the police jury, the administrative staff budget was over $663,000. By 2014, the second year under the Home Rule Charter, the administrative cost had been reduced to under $458,000. The result was a savings of over $205,000 per year. One major action taken was to reduce the number of personnel in administration.
9. Stop spending dedicated funds on things not authorized?
This is one of those claims that has no basis in fact. While we cannot say for certain whether the Police Jury spent money unlawfully, we can say the HRC government has not. We are committed to making sure all dedicated funds are spent the way they are intended by the voters. Being transparent is one of the best ways to make sure this happens.
10. Enough property taxes are paid to blacktop our road:
One commenter claimed that “the ten large houses on my road pay enough in property tax to blacktop our road”. This is one of those statements that is not supported by the facts. A review of the tax records shows that the ten highest residential property taxes paid totaled about $81,000. The problem is that only about 3.7% (approximately $3,000) is dedicated to our roads and the other $78,000 is dedicated for other purposes. Since it takes from $250,000 to $300,000 to rebuild a mile of paved road, $3,000 would not get it done. Also, these ten highest residential property taxes paid were located on a number of different roads, not on the same road. This makes it even less likely any ten houses on any road would pay enough in road taxes to rebuild the road.
11. The Parish has no desire to fix the roads:
This comment saddens us greatly. The unfortunate truth is that the current allotment of tax dollars simply does not provide enough funding for the necessary labor, equipment and materials to adequately maintain the Parish roads. On March 30, 2019, we have an opportunity to take a step toward correcting this problem.
Thank you, for allowing me to respond to the road tax comments. We hope that our responses will better inform the public about the situation we are facing.
If there are any other questions concerning the proposed road tax, please contact the Parish at 318-352-2714.