The “t” word worries some Vernon Parish police jurors as Saturday’s primary election approaches.
That word is tax and it’s anathema to some voters, who never get as far as reading the ballot proposition before they reach for the “no” lever.
The jury is asking voters on Saturday to approve how the parish uses proceeds of a tax that was first okayed by voters more than a quarter century ago.
“Some don’t understand that whether they say yes or no, the millage will still be collected,” said Jury President Jim Tuck during a break at Monday’s jury meetings.
The 4.25 mills in question were initially approved by voters in the 1990’s to finance construction of the library. Once that was built, the jury went back to voters, in 2009, to ask for permission to use proceeds, beyond money needed to pay the library debt, to finance a new jail, a bookmobile and museum repairs.
Juror Kenny Haymon said he has pointed out to persons asking him about the tax that whether it passes or fails, their tax rate will not change. Many, of course, don’t pay the anything, or pay on a reduced assessment, because of homestead exemption.
“We just need to use a portion of what is available, because we saved money on the new jail, to repair our public buildings,” he said.
The shift in funds would allow issuing up to $1.55 million worth of general obligation bonds (with a 15-year repayment schedule). As of Dec. 31, 2016, the parish had $7.4 million in general obligation bond debt.
A wave of apparent opposition to the jury’s request seems to have ebbed in recent weeks as jurors have explained at every opportunity that there is no new or increased taxation involved.
“Some are going to vote no regardless,” one juror said, “but once it’s explained to others they seem to understand we are just trying to responsibly use the proceeds.”
Two questions frequently asked, they say, are:
Why can’t the parish just void the tax? It can’t, because there is bonded debt secured by the tax’s proceeds — debt incurred for the library and the jail work.
Why not pay the debt off at an accelerated rate, rather than ask to use leftover dollars for other purposes? Early payment would result in substantial pre-pay penalties paid to the bondholders.
Haymon, in his ninth year on the jury, said he’s never asked constituents to support a new tax, and is not doing so now.
He said he thinks the proposal on Saturday’s ballot is the most prudent and responsible way to begin to address the substantial maintenance issues on the public buildings.