In The News › Jefferson officials hope voters will keep money flowing to juvenile services

Apr 28, 2011

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Jefferson Parish, On the Ballot

Jefferson officials hope voters will keep money flowing to juvenile services

Thursday, April 28, 2011
By Paul Rioux
The Times-Picayune

The number of crimes committed by juveniles in Jefferson Parish has plunged more than 50 percent since 2005 thanks to post-Hurricane Katrina demographic changes and award-winning reforms implemented by the parish’s juvenile services department, director Roy Juncker said.

Juveniles committed 3,035 crimes last year, a drop of 55 percent from the 6,758 crimes they committed in 2005. The decline coincided with Katrina’s diaspora and a push to reform the parish’s juvenile justice system.

“I can’t take credit for all of the drops, but at the same time they can’t all be explained by Katrina,” said Juncker, a former Westwego police chief who has headed juvenile services since 2001.

The parish is asking Jefferson voters on Saturday to help keep the momentum going by renewing a 3.5-mill property tax that would generate up to $11.4 million annually, accounting for 96 percent of the department’s budget.

Saturday’s ballot in Jefferson also contains a proposed renewal of a 2.26-mill tax that would generate up to $7.3 million to be shared by three departments: the animal shelters, human services and public health. The shelters, which would receive about $3.5 million, have faced widespread criticism over a range of issues, including the deteriorating condition of the West Bank shelter.

Interim director Diane Guichard said the parish has purchased a former medical building in Terrytown that it plans to convert into a new shelter to replace the one in Marrero.

She also said the parish has partnered with the Jefferson SPCA to develop a new spay and neuter program designed to reduce the number of animals brought to the shelters. The shelters take in more than 20,000 animals a year, and about 80 percent are euthanized.

“We’re working hard to make things better,” Guichard said. “We have customers who come in and say they’ve never seen things looking so good.”

Human services would receive about $2.2 million of the shared millage. Although the department receives the vast majority of its financing from the state, which provided $27 million this year, the millage supports key programs that otherwise would not be available, said Gay LeBlanc, director of programs.

For instance, she said, the millage provides about $700,000 for a mobile crisis team that helped 2,300 people with psychiatric and substance abuse problems last year after normal business hours and on weekends.

“After Hurricane Katrina and the oil spill, people have really struggled with mental health issues,” LeBlanc said.

The public health department, which operates clinics on both banks, would receive up to $1.6 million from the shared millage, or about a third of its budget. In addition to providing health care information and services to parish residents, the department inspects restaurants.

Both millages have been renewed several times since the 1960s.

Jefferson is one of just five parishes across the state with a juvenile services department.

The department has won awards for some of its reforms, including alternative detention programs that keep low-level juvenile offenders from being held with those accused of more serious crimes.

The alternatives range from a GPS monitoring device that gives an update on the juvenile’s location every three minutes to a program in which juveniles receive a face-to-face visit and a phone call from department staff each day.

In addition to minimizing low-risk juveniles’ exposure to more serious offenders, the program saves money, Juncker said. He said it costs $165 a day to hold a juvenile in the parish’s detention center, while the alternative programs cost $25 a day or less.

The nonprofit Bureau of Governmental Research has recommended approval for both millages.

Apr 28, 2011

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Jefferson Parish, On the Ballot

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