Justice Center Tax Vote – B. Charles Goodwin

In our research, we have found many areas of spending that can better be used to fund the justice center than their present uses. But first, let’s clarify some misstatements and/or misperceptions. One is that the parish stresses their new renewal is to fund just the “Maintenance and Operation” of the justice center. That is simply not true. The wording of the renewal itself says it is also for “Acquiring and Constructing and funding into bonds…” Worse, the parish has intentionally left in the money in the new taxes to do just that, and even cites the very need to build a new parking garage at $15 million (see Capital Improvement Budget) plus a storage center. The parish originally requested one fourth of a cent to do that. Then it reduced it to one fifth cent. If it were only for Maintenance and Operations, it would have been for one twelfth of a cent. The parish misleads us by saying that it cannot bond these over a 10-year period. That also is not true. It can bond for 10 years, amortized over 20 years, with balloon due in the tenth year, and then pay off the balloon. The collateral to pay off the balloon is the structure itself. Alternately, it can accumulate the funds over the ten years, and on the tenth year pretty much make a lump sum purchase. Again, if the parish had no intention to “Acquire and Construct” then it would not have left money in the Renewal to do just that! As for the storage building, during this time of alleged tight finances and unsure income, why would the parish not just temporarily rent a storage facility until other debt on other structures is paid and/or when revenue is more certain? Why not THEN present this to the voters? We would like the parish to answer why this is not being considered. As for a parking garage, I’ve been to the JCC several times and have always been able to find a parking space. Always. But even if there is an occasional need, then let’s just live with that occasional extra block walk. Walking an occasional extra block does not justify a $15 million dollar remedy. Now, let’s look at some alternatives that make this tax renewal not necessary. You have probably heard of the exponential growth in the Administration’s legal staff. It’s grown from some 2 people at the beginning of this administration to 16. That 16 consist of 6 attorneys and 10 support staff. Its legal cost is now $1,114,919.62 and growing. WORSE, this legal cost does not even include the legal fees for outsourcing an assortment of legal items that are more expensive than the in-house attorneys are. The Administration was well aware that it had a pending revenue reduction. One would think that would call for trimming costs, not adding to them. Yet, with that knowledge, it raised salaries in unconscionable amounts. Here are some examples. 2017 salary and benefits increased 10.02% over 2016, and another 1.2% in 2018 for a total 10.22% over those 2 years. Now, if we factor in the 100 or so employees no longer on the payroll due to workforce reductions, the increase is more like 14% from 2016 to 2017. In 2018, the increase was 2.4% for a total 16.4% increase over 2 years. That’s an average of 8.2% per year. In effect, they paid an 8.2% increase a year in advance. That’s an increase of $1.9 million dollars that we have to pay into perpetuity at the very time Pat Brister is crying Wolf. Now, if we add the 1 million or so to the exponential in-house attorney growth to this 1.9 million of payroll growth, we’re at 2.9 million. Add a conservative half million wasted to fight a law suit for 2 citizens wanting nothing more than to keep the parish from sending septic across their lots and we’re at some 3.4 million. Add for two extra times to vote on this a third time, plus 77,000 to hire a Public Relations firm to “rebrand and educate the voters” and we’re over $3.6 million. Add in the hours of the parish employees handling and promoting this 2nd and 3rd vote and we’re probably around $4 million. And that’s $4 million before we’ve even touched on any other savings. It appears the parish is trying to generate money it doesn’t have to solve a problem it doesn’t have. In summary, if there is any doubt about the pros and cons of the Jail and Justice taxes, CCST feels that these Maintenance and Operations issues should be voted on separately, not co-mingled with “Acquisitions and Construction or Bonding” so each proposal gets a true and honest discussion of pros and cons based on facts, not questionable parish representations. Submitted by B. Charles Goodwin, Mandeville