Webster Parish voters will be looking at a lengthy ballot when they go to the polls for early voting and on November 4.
One group of public officials hopes everyone will go all the way to the bottom of the ballot while they’re behind the curtain.
That final ballot issue is a request from the Webster Parish Police Jury for renewal of a 2.78 mill property tax which funds maintenance, operation and improvements of the parish courthouse and properties which have been added to the building inventory in the past few years.
“This is a renewal of our existing property tax and it’s very important to us,” Ronda Carnahan, secretary-treasurer of the Webster Parish Police Jury, said. “I wish the state had not put us at the very bottom of the ballot, even after the amendments. We hope voters don’t forget we’re down there.”
In addition to the courthouse at 410 Main Street, maintenance funds cover the annex, located across the street on the second floor of the Regions Bank building. That area houses the sheriff’s administrative offices plus detective and narcotics divisions.
Also, maintenance funds are used for the health unit and parish extension/LSU agriculture center offices located in the old West office building in West Plaza Shopping Center, the assessor’s office on South Monroe Street and the health unit in Springhill.
“The millage tax raises about $650,000 annually and it usually covers the maintenance expenses,” Carnahan said. “But it’s important to remember that when the tax was first passed we did not have the properties we now have, and we’re responsible for all the maintenance and upkeep.”
Police Jury President Jim Bonsall also pointed to the importance of the renewal when considering the new properties now included in the maintenance fund.
“We really need the renewal. We have added several properties since the voters initiated the tax, and we’re now taking care of buildings they initiated it for plus several new ones with the same money,” Bonsall said. “It’s taxpayer money and we’re spending it as wisely as we can.”
Bonsall said the police jury will soon have to spend more money to repair an air conditioning and heating system in the courthouse that is more than six decades old. Estimates to bring the system up-to-date are more than five years old, he added.
“We’re looking at having to spend $1.2 million, and that’s a five-year-old estimate. We have a boiler system that was installed when the courthouse was built in the 1950s. The old boiler is cracked and we’ve patched it a couple of times,” Bonsall said. “Chances are it’s going to fail and we might not have heat with winter coming.”
Some of the $1.2 million has been received from the state, Bonsall said, but there’s no guarantee the remainder will be coming.
“We received $525,000 from the state and we have been promised that we’ll get the rest next year from capital outlay,” Bonsall said. “But we know sometimes promises from capital outlay aren’t always delivered.”
Bonsall said the jury is asking for renewal of the 10-year tax a couple of years before the term of the millage expires.
“We’re going ahead with the renewal early in case we will have to borrow some money,” he said. “We can only borrow for the length of time the tax renewal is good for, and it’s a 10-year renewal.”