On the Ballot

Jefferson Parish voters approve new property tax increase for Sheriff’s Office pay raises

By Michelle Hunter

Source: The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

April 30, 2022

Jefferson Parish residents voted Saturday to approve a 7-mill property tax increase that will generate an additional $28 million for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Joe Lopinto had pitched the tax increase as a way to bring in enough new money to cover the costs of pay raises for employees. Lopinto said he plans to give staffers a 20% salary increase.

Voters approved the tax by 74% with 10% voter turnout, according to complete but unofficial results from the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website.

Lopinto has said the money is needed to keep pace with the salaries of some neighboring law enforcement agencies. Higher pay is crucial, he said, to attract new employees and retain the department’s experienced staffers who could be lured away to other departments or private sector jobs.

The starting salary of a Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputy is $38,745 a year. An officer with the Gretna Police Department starts at $42,854. A New Orleans Police Department recruit starts at $40,391, and the salary rises to $56,566 after one year. The starting pay for a Louisiana State Police trooper is $49,448.

In campaigning for the property tax increase, Lopinto said starting deputy pay in Jefferson Parish would increase to 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’s Office’s current 8.28-mill property tax generates about $32 million annually, about a quarter of the department’s $126 million budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

The additional 7 mills will add about $87.50 a year to the tax bill of a home valued at $200,000.

The last tax increase for the Sheriff’s Office was a quarter-cent sales tax in 1993.

“Policing’s different 30 years later,” Lopinto said in a recent interview. “The personnel that I have handling IT work, DNA, they cost money. That didn’t exist 30 years ago.”

The Sheriff’s Office has about 200 open positions, Lopinto said.

The tax increase recently drew the support of the Bureau of Governmental Research, a New Orleans-based research group. The group agreed that better salaries would help the Sheriff’s Office retain quality employees by providing “a stable revenue stream to address growing problems with retention and hiring that could pose a risk to public safety.”

In its endorsement, BGR noted that the raises were expected to cost around $20 million annually. But Lopinto said if he is able to fill the 200 open positions, the raises would cost around $33 million annually.

Lopinto made the rounds of the parish’s civic associations and business groups to push for the tax increase. Heading into Saturday’s referendum, he and other parish officials said they had not heard of any widespread or organized opposition to the tax.

“I’m competing in two difference places: with other law enforcement agencies and the private sector,” Lopinto said during the campaign. “Everybody’s hiring.”

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