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Early voting turnout numbers low

by Minden Press-Herald

Statewide election is Saturday, less than 2K voted early locally

Few Louisiana voters cast ballots early for the upcoming statewide election, and Louisiana’s chief elections officer is predicting the low interest in early voting signals a likely dismal turnout on Election Day. Secretary of State Tom Schedler anticipates only about 15 percent of Louisiana’s nearly 3 million voters will participate in the Saturday election. On the ballot are races for state treasurer, proposals to make three changes to the state constitution and competitions for municipal jobs. In the week-long early voting period that wrapped up this weekend, data from Schedler’s office shows 92,300 people cast ballots. That’s about 3 percent of eligible voters. In Webster Parish, only 1,181 voters cast their ballots early.

Candidates have had trouble drawing interest from voters in a year not featuring the high-profile competitions Louisiana saw the last three years for U.S. Senate and governor. The ballot includes district judge races, tax renewals, state treasurer and three constitutional amendments. Parish wide, voters will decide between Assistant District Attorney Lane Pittard and lawyer Cynthia Carroll-Bridges to be the next district judge. The seat on the bench opened up after Jeff Cox was elected to the Second Circuit Court of Appeal last year.

Voters will also decide on three amendments to the Louisiana Constitution. The first amendment on the ballot would specify how tax assessors should deal with construction sites when it comes to calculating property taxes. The proposal would create a property tax break for all property delivered to a construction site for use in building industrial plants, companies and houses. Tax assessors have traditionally not put new construction on the property tax rolls until the building or other structure was complete. But questions have been raised about whether the taxes could be charged on the large industrial projects that take years to build. The next amendment would expand a property tax break added to the books last year that exempts the surviving spouses of military personnel, police officers or firefighters killed in the line of duty from having to pay local property taxes on their homes.

The proposal would add the surviving spouses of more first responders who die on the job, including emergency medical technicians, paramedics, volunteer firefighters and those military personnel and law enforcement officers on the job for less than a year. The final amendment would direct how future fuel tax revenue can be spent. The money from any new tax levied on gasoline, diesel or other motor fuels would have to flow into a protected fund, to be spent on direct costs associated with construction and maintenance of roads, bridges and other transportation projects. The dollars would be prohibited from paying for state employee salaries or benefits in the transportation department. An effort to raise the gas tax earlier this year failed to win support from lawmakers. In the north end of the parish, voters will decide on the Road District B tax renewal. The measure failed in December 2016; however, parish officials are bringing it back before voters since it is the main source of funding for road repairs in the north end of the parish. “It’s crucial this tax passes so that we can fund road repair in the north end.” police jury president Jim Bonsall said. “Without it, the roads would deteriorate quickly.” The money collected from the tax can only be used for roads and bridges and drainage in Ward Two and cannot be used any place else other than in the north end of the parish. The Road District A tax, which included the south end of the parish, passed in December 2016 with 58 percent. The taxes from both districts make up approximately 25 percent of the parish road budget. “There are signs are saying this is a new tax, that is not the whole truth,” he said. “Yes, it failed last year, but this is a continuation of what people have been paying. Nothing more.” The tax, originally enacted in 1972, is a 10-year continuation and currently stands at 3.92 mill. It will bring in an estimated $414,600 dollars a year to be used for road and bridge maintenance in the north end. Road District B includes areas north of the Couchwood area and includes Springhill, Cullen, Cotton Valley, Sarepta and Shongaloo. Bonsall said the tax not only generates money for parish roads, but also provides municipality funding. “This funding is very important because it helps us to do a lot of road work in the parish. Plus, this is where municipality funding comes from,” he said. “We give each municipality $16,000 worth of road materials and help out with the installation.” Voters in Sarepta Fire Protection District No. 5 area will also decide on a tax renewal to fund the district. The tax is a 10-year renewal and currently stands at 12 mill. It will bring in an estimated $143,844 dollars a year to be used for operating the fire district.

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