Fire Association calls council tax renewal delay ‘unprecedented’

The St. Charles Parish Firemen’s Association is working on its next move after the Parish Council rejected placing a tax renewal for fire protection on a special ballot.

“It’s unprecedented that this has ever happened on a renewal, but we understand,” said Ormond Bourque, Association president and vice president with the Luling Fire Volunteer Department.

Council members rejected a resolution calling for a special election to renew a 1.58-mill property tax for another 10 years, or until the year 2029, at the Feb. 26 council meeting. The move was aimed at delaying the election for further consideration.

The tax generates $2 million a year, which is shared by nine fire departments for buying fire trucks and firefighting equipment, as well as covering the cost of obtaining water for fire protection.

The ordinance called for an April 28 special election.

“I do not have a problem with the millage itself,” said Councilwoman Julia Fisher-Perrier who questioned putting up the renewal for an early vote. “This is a renewal and fire protection is of utmost importance.”

But Fisher-Perrier questioned an April ballot, nearly two years before the tax expires in 2020.

“A lot can change in two years, especially given the current situation we are in with the state’s fiscal cliff,” she said. “Revenue streams could significantly change in two years. Also, as a comparison, I can’t imagine asking the people to reelect the council with two years left in the term.”

Bourque said the early timing was intended to handle the extensive state requirements to hold an election.

“We did not have any requests from the council on why or anything so we proceeded as we needed to,” he said. “I would have thought they would have contacted me if they had an issue, but no one contacted me.”

But Bourque said he had met with Parish President Larry Cochran about it and he extended support for the renewal.

This is why he didn’t attend the council meeting when the ordinance came up for a vote, he said.

Fisher-Perrier said the council was just being good stewards of taxpayer dollars, but she emphasized the renewal can still come up for a vote before it expires. She said she’s also talked to area fire chiefs about planning an outreach program with the public and industry, which she said would bare the brunt of the tax.

“The levee millages were handled well with multiple town halls [meetings] and the fire department agrees that they can use that as a model,” she said.

Bourque said the early vote also was intended to allow them to regroup on a vote should the public reject the renewal and cause a lapse in tax money.

“St. Charles Parish is lucky to have a Class A service that we are providing,” he said. “Without this tax money, it will affect the individual departments and this can affect class ratings, which can impact homeowners’ insurance in the future.”

The tax came about nearly 10 years ago to deal with the cost of having a well-trained fire department, Bourque said.

He recalled how they used “boot shakes” on the side of the road to cover expenses so they asked for the tax for better training and equipment.

“That’s what it takes,” Bourque said. “I’m proud of all of our volunteers for what they do. It takes a special person to do that and I applaud all of them.”

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