Detention center tax passes

Published 7:55 am Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Saturday’s vote to continue a tax to support the Florida Parishes Youth Detention Center was a win for the center.

The five parishes that use the center all voted in favor of the tax, which was a renewal — not a new tax or an increased tax. The same measure failed last November, and Joseph Dominick, the executive director of the center, said that without the win, the center could not have kept its doors open.

“A common misconception was we would have some money to carry us through if we didn’t pass this, but that was a fallacy,” he said. “If it didn’t pass, we could have tried to go on the November ballot, but even if we’d been on the November ballot and passed, our the revenue would have been depleted by the time the continued revenue arrived.”

In Washington Parish, residents voted 1,560 to 528 in favor of funding the center. Those are unofficial numbers.

Dominick said he considered the win to be the result of good public relations. He said in the lead up to the November vote, the public didn’t know the measure would be on the ballot, and when they saw it, they didn’t understand it.

“When we lost on the November ballot we got a lot of feedback from people that they didn’t know it was going to be on the ballot or they thought it was a new tax,” he said. “We knew we needed to educate the folks on the safety services this agency provides.”

In the months prior to the Saturday vote, judges, attorneys and members of public boards all spoke favorably of the detention center, which houses juveniles who are awaiting trial.

The center proved to be so popular of an issue, that both the Washington Parish Democrat and Republican groups came out in support of funding the facility.

Advocates argued that the center is necessary for safety. By law, minors cannot be housed alongside adults, so without the Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention Center, juveniles who had been accused of crimes would have been either released back into their communities or held in a detention center in another part of the state.

In addition, since the five parishes pay for the center through a tax based on property values, residents of Washington Parish, where home prices are below average, pay proportionally less tax than some of the other parishes but get the same use from the facility.

Whatever the reasoning for the community support, Dominick said he was happy the vote turned out the way it did.

“I can tell you that we feel very good about the vote, as well as the effort we put in place to I guess turn the tide of the voters,” he said.

After Saturday’s vote, Dominick said the center would be on firm financial footing. The next vote will be in 10 years.

“I just wanted to thank everyone for their support,” Dominick said. “I know looking at the numbers we had the majority of the support in every parish.”

In two other local elections, voters approved two funding issues for parish fire stations.

Fire District I got a yes vote for a 7.5 millage tax, 114 to 45. Fire District II got a yes vote for a $400,000 bond, 107 for and 63 against.