Iberia Parish: $4M Sheriff tax increase in April!

Tommy Romero Luncheon

Tommy Romero speaks to the Rotary / Optimist club in New Iberia on March 6, 2024

Way back on March 6th, I attended Sheriff Tommy Romero’s sales pitch for yet another $4 MILLION sales tax increase for the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s office. This would be an additional ¼ cent perpetual sales tax added to the existing ¼ cent perpetual sales tax passed several years ago. What caused me to drive all the way to Landry’s in New Iberia was a series of phone calls, emails, and other messages asking Citizens for a New Louisiana to look into this new tax proposal. The overwhelming sense on the ground was very suspicious. Not only do many believe that this tax is unnecessary but they also said it’s not even funding what it claims.

So, I attended the luncheon and listened to what ended up being the standard tax increase talking-point platitudes to which we’ve become so very accustomed. Afterward, I asked what ever became of the public records request we submitted to the Iberia Sheriff’s office way back in January. Public Affairs Director, Katherine Breaux, promised to get me the information soon. More on that in a bit.

Sheriff Romero is seeking a Tax Increase

Iberia Parish Sheriff Tommy Romero went before the Bond Commission in February of 2024 to address his ballot measure seeking an additional parish-wide ¼ cent sales tax beginning July 1, 2024, and continuing IN PERPETUITY! Romero is not the only Sheriff who went before the Bond Commission in February seeking a tax to fund his office. He is the only Sheriff who is seeking an ADDITIONAL/NEW tax lasting in PERPUTUITY!

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Shall the Law Enforcement District of the Parish of Iberia, State of Louisiana (the “District”), be authorized to levy and collect a sales and use tax of 0.25% (the “Tax”) (an estimated $4,000,000 reasonably expected to be collected from the levy of the Tax for an entire year), in perpetuity, commencing July 1, 2024, in accordance with Louisiana law, with the proceeds of the Tax (after paying the reasonable and necessary costs and expenses of collecting and administering the Tax) to be dedicated and used to pay costs and expenses of operating and supporting the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, including paying salaries and benefits of current and any additional law enforcement personnel?

Beauregard Parish Sheriff Mark Herford is seeking a ½ cent sales tax for ten years specifically for funding salaries and benefits of deputies. This is a renewal, not a new tax. Likewise, West Feliciana Parish Sheriff Brian Spillman is seeking a 5.77 mill property tax for five years to assist with providing continued funding. Again, this is a renewal, not a new tax. Both of these Sheriffs go back before the voters every four or five years to ask the taxpayers to renew the tax to collect the revenue for funding their offices. If the voters are not pleased with the services they are provided or if the tax burden, including that collected by other government bodies, becomes too burdensome they have a simple method to turn off the spigot. Residents of Iberia Parish won’t have that same mechanism in place for taxes collected in perpetuity!

Pete and Repeat (Or Sid and Tommy)

Sid Hebert was the Iberia Parish Sheriff when a similar measure was brought before the voters twenty-four years ago. Back in 2000, Hebert sought a sales tax (in perpetuity) which would generate around $2 million a year to be used primarily (but not specifically) to fund deputy pay raises and six new positions. Hebert’s rationale was that an Iberia Parish Patrol Deputy made $14,700.00 per year compared to $22,000.00 in St. Mary Parish, $19,800.00 in Vermilion Parish and $19,000.00 in Lafayette Parish.

Former Sheriff Errol “Romo” Romero had been unsuccessful in getting voters to approve a similar tax while he was in office, making his final attempt in April of 1992. That measure was defeated with 68% of the roughly 12,000 voters casting a ballot opposing the measure. At least one citizen hearing of Romero’s “financial problem” (after the tax failed) remarked: “ROMO: No mo’, dough. NO!” Another citizen accused Sheriff “Romo” Romero of a cover-up by allegedly not filing a complete report of financial expenditures with the Clerk of Court.

Second verse, same as the first

Sid Hebert, in selling his tax, refined his approach. Hebert stated that previous tax attempts were to provide funding for the jail and that his tax would be used to increase salaries and the size of his office. Hebert argued “They’re greatly underpaid” and if they manage “to starve through it (their first year) and get POST-certified, your availability for another department grows tremendously.

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At that time a POST-certified deputy received state supplemental pay of $3,600.00. Today, that number has doubled to $7,200.00. Hebert called for a mid-summer election on this single issue which sparked criticism from members of the New Iberia Chamber of Commerce. The organization stated that it would result in 15 to 20 percent of the voters making the decision. That election resulted in a 66% voter approval with only 6,962 (or 15.4% of the registered voters) casting a ballot.

Tommy’s Tax Proposal

The current Iberia Parish Sheriff, Tommy Romero, seems to be operating a similar playbook. At the March luncheon, Romero claimed he couldn’t recruit and retain personnel due to being unable to offer a competitive salary. According to Romero, the starting pay for an Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Deputy is $34,940, more than double what it was when the Hebert tax was passed. Romero also stated that this is in comparison with the following surrounding agencies:

Romero indicated that 20 officers have left for other agencies since he took office in July of 2020. He also mentioned that of 176 allocated positions at the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, there are only 157 actual employees. That makes him 19 employees short. When asked for a breakdown of the nineteen vacant positions we were only told that it consisted of patrol deputies, detectives, communications officers, corrections officers, and civil officers. No documents were provided.

The Government Solution – We need more money!

Using many of the same talking points as Hebert, Romero is seeking an additional ¼ cent sales tax in perpetuity. The tricky ballot language for Romero tax, despite being billed as exclusive use for salary increases, doesn’t limit the tax revenue for that specific purpose. So ultimately, he could spend it on anything.

What’s interesting about the request for more funds is that a sales tax always adjusts with market changes. As the price of goods and services rise so does the tax revenue collected. That’s because it’s based on a percentage of the sale of goods and/or services. So, while we all recognize the effects of inflationary government spending policies and how those policies impact how far we can stretch a dollar, we should also recognize that a tax passed twenty-four years ago collected on a percentage basis has already adjusted based on rising prices in the economy. A perfect case-in-point is the same tax that was expected to collect $2 million when it was passed in 2000 is now collecting $4 million.

A review of the Financial Audit Reports for the Iberia Parish Sheriff over the last ten years also reveals that salary and benefit costs have remained steady over the last four years. Over the same period, the Sheriff’s fund balance has increased by $4 million. At the end of last fiscal year, the Iberia Parish Sheriff reported an $11.1 million surplus (page 35). Considering he’s already collecting significantly more than he’s spending, what’s preventing Sheriff Romero from raising employee salaries now?

Can it be done without raising taxes?

If the starting salary for an Iberia Parish Deputy is $34,940 increasing the starting pay by $10,000 would reach the same level as Lafayette Parish. That could be done today without the need for any increase in revenue. Romero could simply hire new staff at a higher rate to fill vacancies and reduce overtime costs while trying to figure out how to implement a raise for existing staff. As a recruitment strategy, some area law enforcement agencies have explored offering signing bonuses payable in installments over a period if the officer remains employed.

Last year alone Sheriff Romero paid over a million dollars in overtime (top of page 6) to deputies. The typical scenario is overtime is a result of being “short-staffed.” If the nineteen vacant positions were filled at the rate of $44,000 annually it would cost $836,000 (not counting other benefit costs). This essentially eliminates or greatly reduces overtime without impacting the budget.

Even pay raises for existing employees can be covered

Additionally, if the Sheriff wanted to extend an additional $10,000.00 annual pay raise to his present 157 employees that would be a cost of $1.5 million annually (again not counting other benefit costs). The Sheriff presently has the funds to do this for the next several years. And we know that not every employee would receive the same pay raise. That’s because job duties and hours greatly vary from clerical workers to enforcement deputies.

Also, according to the Sheriff’s payroll numbers from last fiscal year, over 23% of the people who appear on the list made more than $50,000. However, that percentage can be a little deceiving as 28% of people on the same list made less than $20,000 due to it including part-time employees and other people who didn’t work the full fiscal year.

Maybe pay is not the issue at all

While pay and benefits are often important, it is not the only deciding factor for a person changing jobs. A Gallup poll found that engaged employees would need a 31% pay increase to consider working at a different company. Unengaged employees want only a 22% pay increase to change jobs. It is the culture within the organization that means the most. The fact that less than a decade ago nearly 10% of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Deputies were either under indictment or federal investigation demonstrates how prevalent the culture was. That isn’t something that changes just because there was a change in the agency head. People (good and bad) transcend administrations (i.e. bureau-rats).

If there are deeper issues then giving people more money doesn’t address the root of the problem. It only serves to cover it up. The reason employees are unhappy or leave employment won’t necessarily be fixed by higher pay. Sometimes you just have to take a better look.

Restoring Public Trust

Romero ran under the slogan of restoring public trust in the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office following the reign of Sheriff Louis Ackal. Has he done that? We requested information related to staffing and salaries from the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office back in January. However, we were never provided with a response or any documents. We ended up getting that information from another public body. They now claim not responding to the request was an oversight on their part. It turns out this is not the first time Sheriff Romero has not permitted our access to public records.

Previous public record requests

It is something that started when we began inquiring about Sheriff Romero’s personal calendar. At that time, we were looking into $3 million which was allocated to the Acadiana Area Human Services District by the Legislature, without any request for funding from the agency. Individuals with close ties to others involved in the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office scandal were trying to get their hands on that 3 million dollars. Sheriff Romero was one of many local Sheriffs who signed a form letter in support of the venture. The office of Lafayette Sheriff Mark Garber, Sheriff Mike Couvilion, and Sheriff K.P. Gibson signed letters containing the same wording.

So, who did Sheriff Romero meet with or discuss this project with? How did he come into possession of the language on the letter he signed? All of these questions remain unanswered to this day due to the murky transparency of Iberia Parish Sheriff Romero. If you subscribe to the theory ‘money buys you access’ the lead suspects would be Mark Fontenot and Leonard Franques. Sheriff Romero received contributions totaling $5,000.00 from Mark Fontenot and $3,500.00 from Leonard Franques. Franques has since pled guilty for his role in the bribery conspiracy involving the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office scandal.

Casting Doubt or Building Trust?

Attending meetings, shaking hands, and kissing babies may earn you brownie points in the community. Politicians with the gift of gab are able to explain away most things. But that all quickly melts away when you find yourself involved in, connected to, or attempting to hide wrongdoing. It casts doubt on your credibility.

The Finance Reports of Sheriff Romero would lead many to question whether greater fiscal responsibility would be a better move by the taxpayers of Iberia Parish at this time. Over the past several years Sheriff Romero’s agency has been cited with deficiencies dealing with inadequate fiscal controls and segregation of accounting functions. Sheriff Romero took office in July of 2020. From July of 2020 through March of 2021, discrepancies” in accounting for funds totaling over $17,000 were discovered. An “internal investigation” (remember Youngsville) was initiated by Sheriff Romero to examine possible wrongdoing in his office.

At the time the Financial Audit was concluded, for the fiscal year ending in June of 2021, the Auditor noted that the Sheriff had not notified the District Attorney or the Legislative Auditor’s office of the matter. Louisiana Revised Statute 24:523(A) provides “An agency head of an auditee who has reasonable cause to believe that there has been a misappropriation of the public funds or assets of his agency shall immediately notify, in writing, the legislative auditor and the district attorney of the parish in which the agency is domiciled of such misappropriation.”

At the conclusion of the Financial Audit for the following year, on June 30, 2022, the auditor reports “The Sheriff has concluded his investigation which did not disclose any evidence of misappropriation.” Is anyone else skeptical?

More Talking Points!

One of the talking points Sheriff Romero mentioned at the March luncheon was the new Sheriff’s office building. Yes, this is true. But it is not the Sheriff who deserves credit for this. It is the Iberia Parish Government that purchased the building from Carbo Ceramics with ARPA funds. It is also the Iberia Parish Government that is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the building.

Sheriff Romero mentioned the acquisition of new Tasers, Bullet Proof Vests, and a Drone. Then he pointed out that the bulletproof vests were obtained with the help of Firehouse Subs. Whether this statement was intended to imply the Sheriff’s Office didn’t have the funds to obtain new bulletproof vests and had to rely on private entities is unknown. However, the State of Louisiana already has a program for providing free bulletproof vests to police agencies. Louisiana Revised Statue 40:2405.1 provides: “The Department of Public Safety and Corrections, from funds appropriated for this purpose, shall provide upon request special protective equipment, commonly known as a bulletproof vest, for every peace officer in the state of Louisiana.”

In the end, most of the citizens of Iberia Parish likely appreciate the difficulty of the job performed by members of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office. Many would also not be opposed to an increase in pay for those deputies. But that is not the question before the voters. When you cut through all the rhetoric there are just a few questions the voters should be asking.

Is this tax necessary? Is the term of the tax and its purpose reasonable? If it is both necessary and reasonable, do you trust that it will be used entirely for supporting the salaries and benefits of deputies? Those are the questions before the voters of Iberia Parish.


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