By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL – The final decision by Sheriff Randy Smith to add less than a dollar a month to the taxes of most St. Tammany property owners was settled without much fanfare or objections when a public hearing was held at the Slidell office for the Sheriff’s Office.
Smith received some criticism several weeks ago when he announced he planned to accept the voter approved maximum of 11.66 mills in property taxes to fund part of the Sheriff’s Office operation. That meant he would be raising it slightly compared to last year’s total.
The new sheriff who was elected two years ago made a public gesture last year when he lowered the millage to 11.25. But after a jail maintenance sales tax failed for the second time in a continual voter revolt against any taxes in the parish, Smith said he would be forced to return the millage funding his office to 11.66—the amount voters had approved years ago.
That increase is still only going to cost 35 cents a month for the property owner of a $175,000 home, but a hike in taxes of any kind seems to still bring a level of criticism, especially in the days of Facebook when many individuals can make their feelings known anonymously.
Last week the official meeting to make that decision was held, giving the public an opportunity to opine about the decision. However, Smith, surrounded by his four top ranking chief deputies, was undoubtedly pleased to see there were no public comments and no critics on hand, only a few questions by several of the 13 individuals who showed up to watch the action.
Smith explained to those in attendance that the defeat of the sales tax to fund the jail was a tough pill to swallow and cost his office approximately $11 million a year that he had to deal with in his upcoming budget. To address it he had to reduce the staff in the jail by 32 employees, although he acknowledged that he was able to reinstate 15 to other positions that were among 80 available jobs that have not been filled in the Sheriff’s Office.
Rolling the millage forward to the voter approved max of 11.66 will bring in an extra $800,000 which Smith equated to “15 more deputies I would have had to let go.”
Director of the Tax Division Shawn McManus headed the meeting and did his best to explain millages to the public, however, there was still one individual who wondered if the meeting at the Sheriff’s Office was to raise “all the millages” we pay. McManus clarified that this meeting was only for the millage affecting the law enforcement division.
McManus went on to explain other problems that all taxing bodies face in guessing where their millage should be since the suggested number from the assessor to bring in the same money as the previous year does not always result in the revenue coming in that is projected.
“We are guessing at what the money will be and many times, especially in years past before our current assessor, a lot of agencies complained because they didn’t end up getting the money they expected.
“Also, there are always property owners who seek reductions in their assessments and that can reduce the money for everyone. Last year there were over 4,000 adjustments after all of us had to make up our budgets,” McManus added.
Smith said he also cut $2.7 million out of the current budget, along with reducing staff by 32, to compensate for the loss of the $11 million.
The current budget for the entire Sheriff’s Office operation is over $60 million a year.