St. Tammany West Chamber backs taxes for jail, courthouse

By Robert Rhoden

Source: | The Times-Picayune

March 12, 2018

The St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce has announced its support of March 24 ballot proposals to renew sales taxes to fund the parish jail and courthouse. The organization is the second business group in recent days to publicly endorse the measures.

The chamber’s Board of Directors voted Friday (March 9) to back the separate 10-year, 1/5th-cent sales tax renewals, which would each generate about $9 million annually. The decision mirrors that of the East St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce, which called its support of the measures “a public safety and quality of life issue.”

In a news release, the St. Tammany West chamber said it researched the renewals thoroughly because they are appearing on a ballot for the third time. It said the chamber board considered a number of points, including information provided by Parish President Pat Brister and Sheriff Randy Smith, results of a membership survey and the findings of the Bureau of Governmental Research, which supports the jail tax but not the courthouse tax.

“We see the functional connectivity between the jail and justice center,” board chairwoman Rhonda Bagby said. “Our endorsement includes a request to the parish administration and the Parish Council to heed the need for more transparency regarding the parish spending.”

Chamber leaders expressed disappointment about the low 9 percent voter turnout in the last election. “This (is) not a true representation of citizens’ support or lack of support in this and or any election,” the release said.

The chamber, which says it represents more than 1,000 businesses, said it would heavily promote voter turnout for the election. “In the end it is about public safety and quality of life,” chamber Chief Executive Officer Lacey Toledano said.

Last week, the Northshore Business Council also came out in support of the tax measures.

Voters approved the taxes at the higher rate of 1/4-cent in 1998 to build, operate and maintain the courthouse and an expansion of the jail, both in Covington. Those taxes, each generating about $11 million annually, are set to expire at the end of March.

Voters in 2016 soundly rejected 20-year renewals of the taxes.

Parish government trimmed each of the renewal propositions to 1/5th of a cent and cut the duration to 10 years, but voters rebuffed them by tiny margins last year.

Opponents maintain the parish does not need that much revenue and have asked government officials to let the taxes expire and return with a more modest proposal in the fall.

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