Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Could anti-tax sentiment in Lafayette deal a blow to our already dilapidated school facilities? You betcha! By Walter Pierce
[Editor's Note: The print version of this column indicates the Citizens' Oversight Committee recommended two new property taxes for the school board to pursue. The COC is only recommending the board place a single tax proposal for the Facilities Master Plan before voters. This column has been adjusted to reflect that correction.]
Get ready for the tea to come to a boil, and it could be Lafayette’s public school children who get scalded.
It’s no secret that our public school buildings are in piss-poor condition. Most need repairs, some of them major, and several need to be razed and replaced. That costs money, and money for public schools is generated through taxes.
The school board recently adopted the Facilities Master Plan put together by a Baton Rouge planning firm. It’s a comprehensive plan that addresses the many infrastructure deficiencies in our public schools. (I emphasize the possessive adjective because these buildings belong to us, the taxpayers, and we’re ultimately responsible for their upkeep.) The price tag for the fix is just over $1 billion, although the board’s strategy is apparently to go to voters and ask for it in two installments.
Yet, while embracing the plan, the board has yet to set a vote on putting a new property tax — assuming this is the preferred route as opposed to a sales tax — on a ballot, and with good reason: I can’t imagine a worse time to ask voters to approve a new tax, with TEA party sentiment, often knee-jerk at that, ascendent.
But just last week the school system’s Citizens’ Oversight Committee, which is exactly what it sounds like, recommended the board move forward with a new property tax proposal to fund the master plan.
This is at once a critical time and the worst possible time for such discussion.
At the end of this month, on the Saturday of Festival International — which won’t help turnout — Lafayette Parish voters will be asked to renew an existing 5-mill property tax that generates $8.1 million annually. This is a renewal, not a new tax. But could the distinction not matter to the anti-tax zealots? Could it be confused for a new tax by the less informed?
It could be disastrous for our school system if the renewal fails, yet that possibility seems better than remote.
A week and a half ago, voters in the Jefferson Parish city of Kenner in suburban New Orleans shot down six property tax propositions, three of which were renewals. One of those renewals funded the bulk of the Kenner Fire Department’s operations budget. Even public safety, it seems, is not immune to the zeitgeist.
I posted a blog last week at theind.com about the COC’s tax recommendation. The reaction in the comment section was swift and overwhelmingly negative.
“Anyone in government even thinking about raising any taxes or any fees needs to resign immediately. Period!” wrote one reader. “Warm up the tar and pluck the feathers,” chimed another.
It doesn’t help that until recently the school board routinely used the maintenance budget as a de facto rainy day fund, raiding it to bankroll other prerogatives like across-the-board lower student-teacher ratios in the mid 1990s. That’s what got us into this pickle; the misuse of maintenance funds for non-maintenance needs now manifests itself in peeling paint, leaking roofs and a proliferation of “butler” buildings cluttering our campuses.
But if we head to the polls April 30 and punish the school board for the screw ups of past boards by electing not to renew an existing tax, we’re really taking it out on our children and condemning them to an ever-worse learning environment.
Renew the tax on April 30. We can squabble about new taxes later.
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Hashtag, retweet, like, share and do whatever else it takes to get in good today with the jolly man in red.
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The festival is scheduled for March 21-22 in New Orleans.
NOLA Bowl ready prints
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday, December 10, 2013:
For the first time in at least five years, retired teachers, state workers and school system employees could see an increase in their pension checks.
Lawmakers and Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration shared a collective sigh of relief with the news that Louisiana's tax amnesty program brought in the $200 million that they used to help balance this year's budget.
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The Cane Fire Film Series will be screening The Savoy King, a feature documentary on Swing-era drummer-bandleader Chick Webb, Ella Fitzgerald, and Harlems Savoy Ballroom.
The teams were extended invitations Sunday for the New Year's Day matchup played at Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Outfit Of The Game looks at jewelry.
Holiday party with style
Funds will expand Early College Academy from 250 to 1,000 students
Let ’em know and you could win a $250 night out.