New River Ridge-area fire millage, parishwide library tax renewal on Saturday ballot
By Chad Calder
Source: The Advocate
April 27, 2017
Voters throughout Jefferson Parish will be asked Saturday to renew the 6.5-mill property tax that funds the parish’s public library system, while River Ridge and a handful of Metairie voters will decide whether to pay more to become part of the East Bank Consolidated Fire District.
The latter proposal — involving a new 10-year tax of 25 mills to replace a 20-mill tax — would spell the end of the Third District Volunteer Fire Department, which has been serving the River Ridge area for 60 years and which opposes the measure.
Supporters say the change will improve fire protection for the roughly 30,000 residents who live there, while opponents call it an unnecessary tax increase that could cost many of the 55 Third District firefighters their jobs.
The 10-year library tax renewal, endorsed by the Bureau of Governmental Research, would authorize a collection of up to 6.5 mills, though the tax has been collected at 6.17 mills since 2004.
If passed by voters and renewed by the council at the full 6.5 mills, the tax would yield an estimated $21.4 million in 2018, $386,000 more than at the current level. The parish has said the higher rate is necessary to keep up with inflation.
The tax funds virtually all the operating and capital expenses of the system, which has two regional libraries and 14 branches.
BGR reported the system has kept its growth in operating costs “at a modest 3.1 percent” a year and has avoided borrowing for its capital improvements, with $38 million available in that fund.
In endorsing the measure, the group noted that the millage, if collected at the full 6.5 mills, would increase the property taxes on a $200,000 home by $4 per year, to $81.
The higher fire protection millage will be on the ballot in 26 precincts in River Ridge and Metairie, bounded by David Drive, Roosevelt Boulevard, Interstate 10 and Airline Drive, that are now served by the Third District force.
Jefferson Parish Councilman Paul Johnston said he had the parish look into putting the East Bank Consolidated Fire District millage on the ballot after hearing concerns from constituents that enough firefighters weren’t showing up to fires in the Third District.
He said the millage election will allow residents to decide whether they want to stay with the present partly volunteer department or approve the new tax and become part of the fully professional East Jefferson district.
“This would give them the coverage they need to protect their homes from fires, and right now they’re not getting that,” Johnston said. He said constituents have complained that trucks sometimes show up with only three firefighters, followed by volunteers arriving several minutes later.
Third District disagrees, saying a higher tax and a shift to the larger department aren’t necessary. It says it staffs four stations with full-time firefighters 365 days a year.
Spokesman Jody Sanderson said the Third District, which employs 30 full-time, 25 paid part-time firefighters and 27 volunteer firefighters, operates on only about two-thirds of the $3.1 million collected through the existing 20-mill tax. He said it has asked the parish for an additional $100,000 a month to boost the number of firefighters who respond to fires.
Sanderson said that extra money would increase the number of firefighters at any given time to four on each of the three fire engines and three on the ladder truck.
Johnston said the higher millage for the larger district would put five personnel on three engines and four on the ladder truck, and that the district’s fire rating, which helps lower homeowners’ insurance costs, would improve from a Class 3 to a Class 1.
Sanderson said the district already expects an upcoming review to raise its rating to a Class 2, which is what the volunteer fire districts on the West Bank have, because of improvements to training and record keeping the department has made since the last evaluation.
Sanderson said that even though East Jefferson Consolidated has pledged to take on as many Third District firefighters as it can, “if it passes, 55 people will be out of work.”
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