When most people think of April showers, they contemplate rain. Or the May flowers that follow according to the commonly repeated phrase. April is also federal tax season with filing deadlines fast approaching. But here locally this April is also the time for tax increases with politicians hoping to get more tax dollars out of your pocket. If the March elections are any indicator of the upcoming results, voters will be rejecting tax measures on the ballot.
St. Landry and Evangeline Parish Taxes Rejected
Just a few weeks back St. Landry Parish voters overwhelmingly rejected three parish wide school district tax measures. The school propositions represented the only parish wide taxes on the ballot. Results from the March 26, 2022 election reveal 75% of voters rejected a 9.9 mils tax over ten years, 78% of voters rejected a 1.0 mils tax over ten years. Then 78% of voters cast their ballot to defeat another measure which would have allowed the district to incur debt. If approved, they would have issued bonds not to exceed $150,000,000.00, creating an estimated 12.9 mills in new taxes to be levied annually.
Likewise, Evangeline Parish voters rejected the only two parish wide tax propositions on their March 26, 2022 ballot. Both measures asked to renew a 5.21 mill tax for the library and a 2.07 mill tax for the health unit. Voters rejected them by 66% and 65% respectively.
We have already covered the upcoming DDA tax increase which is being presented to the downtown voters on April 30, during what is expected to be the city’s biggest Festival International turnout in years. The special election is expected to cost the voters around $10,000 and is certain to experience low voter turnout, which of course is likely the intended result. The DLU, an arm of the DDA, and their cronies have been canvassing neighborhoods to ensure their salaries tax doesn’t fail. Leading some people to ask what other tax measures are upcoming.
Vermilion Parish Tax Hike
If you are a resident of Vermilion Parish, you may be surprised to learn there’s a new tax on the April 30th ballot. According to public records, the Vermilion Parish School Board voted unanimously (one member was absent and one member abstained) at the January 20, 2022 regular meeting in favor of a proposition to hold a special election on April 30, 2022 to increase taxes. The proposition seeks to levy $4,362,000 by way of a ½ cent parish-wide sales tax “solely for the purpose of increasing the salaries and benefits of school employees.”
Of note, “employees” doesn’t necessarily mean teachers, but any employee of the system. In may systems, the percentage of employees at the school system office exceeds the number of employees who actually teach. Although the system’s most recent annual audit doesn’t list the number of employees by job function, we can extrapolate percentages from relevant expenditures contained therein. On page seven (7) of the report, the system’s largest expense is listed as $78.8 MILLION in salaries and benefits. Then, jump over to the second-to-last page of the report (page 138 but numbered page five (5)). There, we see that only thirty-six percent (36%) or $28.5 MILLION goes directly to teacher salaries. If we add in benefits, it’s a little better fifty-five percent (55%) or $43.4 MILLION.
“It’s déjà vu all over again.”
It was Yogi Berra who said that famous quote. If you’re experiencing a vague recollection that you’ve experienced all of this before, it’s because you have. It was back in 2009 that Vermilion Parish voters approved the very same question. We know this because that’s exactly what their annual audit tells us on page 102. Vis: “In May, 2009 Vermilion Parish voters approved a 1/2 cent sales tax dedicated solely for the purpose of increasing the salaries and benefits of school employees to a level comparable with surrounding parishes.”
In fact just last year (2020-2021), their annual audit shows that the 2009 tax (likely understood by Vermilion voters to be for teacher pay raises) brought in $4,373,248. Because taxes are percentages, the revenue it brings in will automatically increase with inflation. There’s no better example of this point than current year’s revenue compared with with the first year’s revenue. In 2010, that tax brought in $2,793,416 (page 60, marked page 56). So, in just ten years, the revenue from the 2009 “employee raises” tax has gone up $1,579,832, or a whopping 56% increase!
The term of the current ballot proposition lists this new tax as in “perpetuity”, meaning that it lasts forever and never comes before the voters again. The 2009 pay raises tax doesn’t appear have an expiration date, either. Vermilion Parish residents need to know that Vermilion Parish School System is the parish’s number one employer. Its 1,620 employees, who stand to directly benefit from another $4,362,000 in pay raises, are certain to be well apprised of and will turn out for this election.
Why haven’t I heard about this?
We have searched the Vermilion Parish School District website and even their mobile app for any information being circulated to inform voters of the upcoming election. We can’t find any mention of the special election which is estimated to cost the taxpayers of Vermilion Parish $50,000.
Many Vermilion voters living in the incorporated areas of the parish recently went to the polls. It was March 26, 2022 that they cast their ballot for a number of municipal positions. Those municipal elections resulted in voter turnout near and above 40%. With a little better planning, the proposition could have made it on the March ballot. Doing so would have eliminated the added cost to the taxpayer.
In the alternative the Vermilion Parish School District could have had the ballot measure placed in the fall elections. This also would have spared the taxpayers the estimated $50,000 cost of a special election. Unless, of course, there was some dire need to begin collecting this new tax immediately. That doesn’t appear to be the case.
Is there an urgent need for funds?
According to a series of recent annual financial reports, the fund balance has consistently exceeded $30 million. However, last year’s fund balance exploded to $45 million dollars, thanks to $10 million dollars coming from the issuance of debt.
We aim at providing information that the average voter can use to make informed decisions. However, in this case there appears to be many more questions than answers. We implore citizens to take notice, do their own research, and make informed decisions at the polls. In the mean time, we will continue researching yet another tax the politicians are hoping goes unnoticed by average voters.
If we’re not watching them, who will?
Citizens for a New Louisiana is the only organization in Louisiana dedicated to reforming local government. With the help of numerous volunteers we are making some progress. However, there’s much more work we could be doing. Making a difference will take a little more than reading an article every now and then. Your community doesn’t need another spectator. They need someone willing to step onto the field and become a real part of the solution. Will you join us?
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