Nay vote a benefit to rec district

Published 9:14 pm Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Although supporters might dissent, the Washington Parish Council voted correctly by denying a nearly 14-mill tax be put on the ballot that would have funded an ambitious recreation complex proposed for a 100-acre site north of Franklinton.

To the contrary, council members delivered a gift to Recreation District 1 with unanimous denial by council members for the millage to be put to the voters later this year.

First and foremost, the council is charged by its constituents to make sound decisions that will enhance not only the quality of life in the parish, which the complex would certainly do, as well as be a curator of parish finances. Unfortunately, these are taxing times for parish coffers.

Council members are in the midst of trying to cobble together more than $200,000 to avoid a potential deficit in the general fund by year’s end. Red numbers in the general fund violates state law and almost guarantees a state takeover of the parish, which is a scenario where no one wins, especially those trying to get a sports complex built.

Parish President Richard Thomas and other officials will soon be meeting with various agencies attempting to trim the fat, but in some cases, especially on the administrative side, there’s no excess to whittle.

Realistically, the parish will likely have to go to the voters for a millage of its own, at an amount to be determined. Officials publicly remain mum because asking voters to dip into already strapped pockets is always dicey, but there’s no cloaking the reality that new revenue sources must be identified and implemented for the parish to be financially solvent. If not, one may see council members on the corner with a tin can.

Of course, the obvious remedy is for St. Tammany District Attorney Walter Reed to pay the nearly $1 million leaders say the parish is owed on a gentleman’s agreement dating more than 20 years ago but Reed has shown no sign of acquiescing.

Also, factor into the equation the need for a new jail and the financial tableau adds even another act. Newly minted Sheriff Randy Seal can put his own millage on the ballot to pay for the jail or other needs without parish council approval but as a former assessor he knows the risks and costs of such an election.

Ideally, the parish will place before the voters a criminal justice millage proposal that will be designated only for the purpose of funding the jail and justice system, including the judicial branch and district attorney’s office. Included in that millage would be sufficient funding to build a new jail, which would be adequate to house federal and state prisoners, thereby turning a revenue drain into a revenue producer.

Secondary, the recreation district must consider the potential devastating effects of a Riverside hangover. In April, voters approved a 15-mill tax for Riverside Medical Center by a 52-48 percent margin.

Hospital officials claimed during the campaign a voter rejection would necessitate layoffs and perhaps ultimately lead to shuttering the 25-bed facility.

Voters gave the nod to the millage but less than two months later hospital officials announced the layoffs of up to six employees and that several more were reduced from full-time to part-time.

The fallout has been shock and anger at the turnabout. Many say they feel used and some have even attempted to launch a recall petition, although that appears to have gained little traction.

Quite simply, the timing is not right for the recreation district. A year from now, perhaps earlier, the council will undoubtedly allow the millage to go to the voters, and members are sure to give it the power of their full endorsement.

The proposed sports complex needs to be built and will be a tremendous addition to all of Washington Parish. One day. But for now, a little patience is the order of the day.