By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL – St. Tammany Sheriff Randy Smith is catching his share of heat about his announcement to increase the Law Enforcement District millage back to its maximum voter-approved total.
The Sheriff’s Office has operated with two millages providing the majority of its annual funding. The Law Enforcement District millage, approved by voters at 11.66 mills, brings in approximately $22 million a year, while the jail tax millage brings in approximately $11 million a year.
In late April, voters for the second time in a year said “no” to renewing the jail tax millage, forcing Smith to recently announce drastic cuts in operations that included a reduction of 104 jobs—nearly 13 percent of the Sheriff’s Office workforce. He said the cuts did not effect on-street patrols, noting he was intent on keeping safety as “priority number one.”
However, Smith has been attacked for that decision, particular with comments on Social Media, accusing him of “retaliating” against the voters who turned down the millage. Now he is getting a second dose of criticism for his announcement that he intends to bring the general operations millage back to the voter-approved level.
When Smith took office two years ago he promised to not seek any new taxes and reduced the 11.66 mill property tax for the Law Enforcement District to 11.25 in his first year of making that decision. Now, however, facing the loss of $11 million from the jail tax, he has announced plans to return the Law Enforcement District tax to its voter-approved total of 11.66 mills. The increase back to its max will bring in approximately $800,000 more for general operations.
While he immediately began hearing critics attack him for the move, the increase from 11.25 mills to 11.66 mills will cost the owner of a $175,000 home only $4.10 a year—or less than 35 cents a month.
That decision, which will be discussed at a public hearing on July 13 at the Sheriff’s Office location in Slidell on Brownswitch Road, has started the criticism on Facebook again, accusing Smith of “raising taxes” on property owners in St. Tammany, a charge he vehemently denied in a press release this past week.
“I have NOT increased taxes and would never do so,” Smith stated. “I am simply collecting the full amount of the millage approved by the citizens of this parish, which is allotted by the laws of this state. The $800,000 doesn’t even come close to absorbing the amount of revenue lost due to the failed sales tax, but I have to do what it takes to keep the operations of the STPSO as efficient as possible.”
Voters are invited to the public hearing on the millage that will be held at the 300 Brownswitch Road location for the Sheriff’s Office in Slidell. The hearing begins at 9 a.m.
Smith said that reducing the workforce by 104 jobs saved approximately $7.2 million, still far short of the $11 million his department lost with the millage. That is the prime reason he has announced his intent, at least at this time, to add the additional millage that voters had previously approved.
“While this will reinstate the generation of approximately $800,000 in revenue, certainly it pales to the impending funding losses. It is a necessary fiscal step to maintain the essential operations of the STPSO in a manner that is as efficient and functional as possible, and also assist in preserving the district’s bond rating,” he explained.
“This is NOT a tax increase like some have tried to portray it,” Smith added.