Early voting for the Dec. 5 election began at 8:30 a.m. Friday at the Eunice City Hall. Clerk Cynthia Martin is in the background framed by two voting machines. Only one vote had been cast by noon. Voting continued Saturday and resumed Monday through Wednesday. The early voting takes a break for Thanksgiving and Friday and ends on Saturday. Voting hours are 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Photo by Harlan Kirgan)
The St. Landry Parish Council met Wednesday in the Delta Grand Theater in Opelousas. The building allows the Council to establish social distancing. (Photo by Harlan Kirgan)
Jail tax renewal urged
Renewal of a tax to maintain and operate the St. Landry Parish Jail is a critical issue for parish government, according to Parish President Jessie Bellard.
If the tax isn’t passed, the parish’s fund for roads, bridges and drainage will be emptied of nearly $700,000 to pay for jail maintenance and operations.
The election is Dec. 5. Early voting continues Monday through Saturday. Voting will not be held on Thanksgiving or Friday.
Early voting hours are 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Early voting locations are: Courthouse, 118 S. Court St., suite 114; and Eunice City Hall, 300 S. 2nd St., Eunice.
Wayne Ardoin, chairman of the Parish Council’s Admin- istrative-Finance Committee, noted at Wednesday’s Council meeting that early voting is underway.
“We need to remind people that this jail tax — it is a renewal — it needs to be passed. It is very important,” Ardoin said.
The proposition on the ballot calls for a 1-mill property tax that raises about $671,000 a year. The tax is for 10 years and is dedicated to operating and maintaining the parish jail.
“How are we going to fix our roads in the parish?” Bellard when asked about the prospect of the tax failing. The parish
is hard-pressed now to keep up with maintaining its roads, bridges and drainage, he said.
After the meeting, Bellard said, “If the jail tax tax doesn’t pass, then the only unrestricted money that we have available is the racino money.”
The racino money is from Evangeline Downs and totals about $1.2 million a year.
“Right now the racino money is going towards the Road and Bridge Fund or at least 55% of it is going over there. The other 45% is divided up to municipalities and the district attorney and everybody else,” he said.
If the tax is not passed, the parish jail expenses would come from money usually used for the parish’s roads, bridges and drainage, he said.
The parish government is mandated to pay for the jail expenses, he said.
The jail tax renewal failed in a November 2019 election with 53% of the 25,970 votes cast voting “No.”
Bellard said the Dec. 5 election is the last time the tax can be renewed. If voters reject it, the next vote would be as if it is new tax.
“The renewal process is a lot easier. If we have to bring it tack on the ballot next March as a new tax then we have to go through a whole other process,” Bellard said
“The renewal needs to be happening now because if it doesn’t renew starting Jan. 1 we don’t get that tax,” he said.
Bellard pointed out that even though Eunice has its own jail, it sends prisoners charged with a felony to the parish lockup. Smaller municipalities in the parish send all of their prisoners to the parish jail.
The parish jail has a maximum capacity of 232 inmates.
Other issues on the ballot include the following.
— A consitutional amendment to allow the governor to appoint a person who resides out-of-state to serve as an at- large member of a public postsecondary education board of supervisors?
— Shall Bayou Plaquemine Gravity Drainage District No. 12 renew the levy of a consolidated special tax of 20 mills on all property subject to taxation within the District for a period of 10 years, beginning with 2022 and ending 2031, having an estimated annual collection of $200,000 for constructing, maintaining and operating gravity drainage works within and for said District?