7-mill tax pushed by Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joe Lopinto gets BGR backing. See what they said
By Faimon A. Roberts III
April 21, 2022
Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joe Lopinto’s proposed 7-mill property tax to fund employee raises has picked up the backing of the Bureau of Governmental Research, which agreed with Lopinto’s assertion that increasing salaries is needed to help the agency keep employees from leaving for better-paying jobs elsewhere.
“BGR finds that the Sheriff has demonstrated new revenue is necessary to address growing problems with retention and hiring that have left the office understaffed,” the New Orleans-based research group concluded. The new tax “would provide a stable revenue stream to address growing problems with retention and hiring that could pose a risk to public safety.”
The referendum is the highest-profile item on the April 30 ballot in Jefferson Parish. Early voting continues through Saturday (April 23).
Lopinto, in a raft of meetings with community, neighborhood and business groups, has argued that the tax is necessary to offer more competitive salaries to deputies who, he says, are often lured away by higher pay on municipal forces and with the Louisiana State Police. JPSO currently has about 200 open positions, he said.
The tax, which is expected to bring in about $28 million per year, would ensure that most employees would receive about a 20% raise, while others would see more. The size of the raise for each employee would depend on rank, responsibility and experience, a spokesperson said.
Currently, starting salaries for deputies are $38,745 per year. Starting officers in Gretna earn $42,854 per year, and New Orleans Police recruits earn $40,391 per year, though NOPD salaries go up to $56,566 after one year. Starting State Troopers earn more than $49,000 per year.
Under the new plan, starting JPSO deputy pay would be about $45,000 per year. Correctional officer pay would go from $35,500 to $39,000 and communications employees’ salaries would go from $32,000 to $36,000.
The sheriff currently receives an 8.28-mill property tax that was enacted in 1974. That tax generates about $32 million per year, about a quarter of the sheriff’s $126 million annual budget. The only tax increase since then was the passage of a quarter-cent sales tax in the mid-1990s.
“Policing’s different 30 years later,” Lopinto said. “The personnel that I have handling IT work, DNA, they cost money. That didn’t exist 30 years ago.”
The tax would cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $87.50 per year.
The BGR report doesn’t offer an unqualified endorsement, however.
“The proposal has some shortcomings that the Sheriff’s Office should address,” BGR wrote. Specifically, they note that the raises are expected to cost about $19-20 million per year, but the tax would generate around $28 million.
Lopinto must work to reduce the number of vacancies, improve efficiencies and then consider lowering the millage rate, the report says.
Lopinto noted, however, that if he is able to fill the 200 open jobs he has, the raises will actually cost around $33 million per year. He also noted that the new tax won’t be collected until the end of this year, but the raises would be effective July 1, which would deplete about $10 million in reserves he currently has.
He didn’t want to ask voters for a lower millage and then have to come back and ask for more once positions were filled, he said.
“This is not something I take lightly,” he said.
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