JENNINGS, LA (KPLC) - Voters in Jennings will go to the polls on Saturday, March 27 to decide whether to approve a one percent sales tax for police, fire, public works and other city services. The tax has been collected since 1978. However, for legal reasons the ballot won't call the tax a renewal and city officials want to make sure people know it's not a new tax.
Some of the workers effected include those we find deep in a wooded area behind the city sewerage plant. The Jennings city employees work in the mud and water today. They're checking for a leak in one of the city's main lines into the sewerage plant. The one per cent sales tax first passed in 1977 pays their salaries and other costs to operate their department and others in the city including streets and bridges, drainage and parks along with fire and police.
Jennings Mayor Terry Duhon says they need voters to continue the tax. "This is our meat and potatoes because it does fund our police and fire which is our two emergency services."
However, due to the sort of legal snafu, state election officials suggest the tax may already have expired. Explained the mayor, "City officials were working off of a 1985 ordinance that was prepared by our then bonding attorneys basically extending the life of the tax. We felt that the tax wasn't going to expire until December 31st of 2010."
State election officials would not allow the city to call the tax a renewal on the ballot. The mayor said, "So to get it on the ballot we couldn't use the word renewal or continuation."
But Duhon states emphatically that it's not a new tax. "This is a continuation of the tax that was passed in 1977. We're not asking for a third cent."
The mayor says services would be cut, jobs would be lost and that the city would face a huge financial crisis if the tax is not approved. "We may have to cut services and lay off individuals. It would be pretty devastating for a city our size."
And many citizens do seem sympathetic to the city's dilemma. Citizen Charles Wilson said was one of those we caught at the post office. "I think they need it. I think it ought to go through," he said.
Citizen Jeryl Bertrand said, "They can't do it without the money. We need to provide them with the finances to provide those services." The one per cent sales tax brings in about $2 million a year.
We'll be checking with the La. Secretary of State's Office and Louisiana Attorney General to find out their take on whether the tax is officially still on the books and whether it was okay to collect it these past eight years or so.