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Sheriff releases details about his tax proposition

Posted: 3:37 PM, Aug 09, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-10 00:03:46-04

Sheriff Mark Garber plans to ask Lafayette Parish voters for a half-cent sales tax on December 8.

The tax, which will be collected everywhere in Lafayette Parish, will replace a current one-cent tax, which is collected only in the unincorporated areas of the parish. The predicted income of the new tax would be $25 million annually. The income of the current tax is about $4 million annually.

The proposition that will be on the ballot will dedicate the income to “providing law enforcement personnel, equipment, salaries, facilities and services.”

But that’s not the end of it; Garber plans to draft a covenant to detail the distribution of the money. He’s following a procedure implemented by the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office.

The covenant is a contract with voters that’s filed in court. It makes certain promises regarding distribution of tax income and other items, and compliance with it is reviewed during the agency’s annual audit. Garber’s covenant would lay out the distribution of the income from the tax, and also would set benchmarks that would trigger reductions in the sheriff’s millage rates. For instance, once a certain amount of income is received from the tax, which would be set in the covenant, the sheriff’s property tax rates could drop up to 25 percent.

According to Garber’s office, 42 of Louisiana’s 64 sheriffs have sales tax income to fund their operations.

“The Sheriff’s Office has to have additional funding of some kind,” the sheriff says. “We have a large amount of debt, we have rising demands for public service. We either have to cut services and have fewer employees to maintain competitive pay and benefits, or we’ve got to have additional sources of revenue.”

Even if he were to cut services and staff, Garber said, that wouldn’t help with his office’s debt.

Garber tells KATC that he wants to address his office’s unfunded pension liability, pay off the $17 million in bonds issued to build the Willow Street facility early, and improve pay for every officer in the parish. The income would support operations of the jail, juvenile offender assessment, and crime scene and evidence facilities.

He also wants to work with the City of Lafayette to provide support to needs identified the city – which haven’t been identified yet.

The unfunded pension liability – which is basically what is predicted to be owed to employees eligible for retirement from the Sheriff’s Office – is a problem Garber has in common with almost every governmental entity in Louisiana. His unfunded pension liability is currently $21 million.

The bonds issued for the Willow Street facility will be paid off in 2022, but Garber says he wants the Sheriff’s Office to be out of debt.

Garber plans to re-institute a practice that had occurred under another sheriff years ago, and provide the parish’s other municipal police agencies with a pay supplement for their officers.

Each officer would receive a $250 monthly supplement, payable at the end of the year, Garber said. As long as the officer remains employed, he gets the supplement check at the end of the year, Garber said. That idea came from a Lafayette Parish police chief who said it would help him hang on to his employees, the sheriff said.

As he told the City-Parish Council last month, Garber would like to share some revenue with the Lafayette Police Department. How much and to fund what hasn’t been decided yet; Garber said he initially met with members of the Lafayette Police union, but since the union has no authority to negotiate or accept any funding for the city, he’s now working directly with Mayor President Joel Robideaux. Garber said he also met with Police Chief Toby Aguillard, but Aguillard deferred future discussions to Robideaux.

In that presentation to the council, Garber said he’d like to have the Lafayette Police mechanism included in the proposition on the ballot. However, since then nobody with the city has followed up, and he didn’t feel he could put the city on his tax request without the city’s permission, Garber said.

“I had hoped for support from the police administration, more pro-activity from stakeholders,” Garber said. “I believed it was necessary and right to have some kind of official approval to do that. That’s why I didn’t do it. That doesn’t change my intent, and it doesn’t change what we’re trying to do.”

Garber said neither the chief nor assistant chief attended his presentation, and there was “no follow-up by anybody” from the city.

“I did the best I could, and will continue to do, but I would like some support from the actual stakeholders,” Garber said.

Garber says he’s been told by the city’s bond attorney that he can share proceeds from his tax with other law enforcement, and he still hopes to do that.

“Obviously we haven’t been able to move as fast as I would like,” he said.

Garber also explained his tax proposal to the City of Youngsville. Thursday the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s spoke to the Youngsville City Council about the proposed tax plan.