OUR VIEW: People spoke loudly; now belt tightens

Published 12:16 am Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Voters were heard in a resounding voice resonating throughout the piney hills of Washington Parish on Saturday night.

More than 60 percent of voters rejected a proposed .33 sales tax increase, which parish leaders said was necessary to maintain the current levels of service as well as fund state mandated expenses to its sub agencies.

The fallout from the defeat began shortly after the courthouse opened Monday morning when Sheriff Randy Seal filed a lawsuit against President Richard Thomas and the Parish Council, claiming the parish government was not providing adequate funding to his office.

In an unprecedented move, Seal is also asking that as the collector of the sales tax he be allowed to withhold what’s owed to his office before sending the revenue to the parish.

Seal’s suit is curious in that even if he wins and the judge mandates what the parish must pay, the harsh reality is you can’t spend money you don’t have. Frankly, the parish is tapped, and no lawsuit will alter that reality.

More important, what can parish residents now expect? Most likely, few residents will notice major changes, but the effect will sink in once they need to call on the parish for some type of service and the response time is much slower.

The courthouse should remain open since the agencies that occupy the building have alternative funding sources, but what is more likely is the parish’s administrative office might go down by one day a week.

The parish’s aggressive road-paving program, which has been so successful for the past two years, will be slowed considerably. Road crews are still trying to catch up from last year when inclement weather, including Hurricane Isaac, put the program miles behind.

Once that is satisfied, how much of the 2013 program will be initiated is uncertain.

Also pressing is where the parish goes from here. Another tax measure will go before voters in October, but in what form, either a millage increase or sales tax increase, remains to be decided.

What is certain is there will be no extra funding in 2013, for even if voters approved the measure in October no revenue would be realized until 2014.

The current year is going to be a struggle for the parish and subsequently its residents. As a family tightens its collective belt during a financial crisis, so must the parish.

But the people have spoken, in a firm voice. Now consequences sink in.