Chief deputy: Tax would provide $5M in revenues
St. Mary Parish Chief Deputy Lonnie LaBouve speaks at the St. Mary Industrial Group’s monthly luncheon meeting held at the Petroleum Club of Morgan City.
(The Daily Review Photo by Zachary Fitzgerald)
The St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Office is in need of more funding to be able to continue to provide the services it offers, which could be helped through the passage of a half-cent sales tax in the parish, Chief Deputy Lonnie LaBouve said Monday.
LaBouve was the guest speaker at the St. Mary Industrial Group’s monthly luncheon meeting held at the Petroleum Club of Morgan City. He discussed the proposed half-cent sales tax election Dec. 6 to benefit the sheriff’s office. Former Sheriff David Naquin pushed for a quarter-cent sales tax, which was the last push for a new revenue source for the sheriff’s office, LaBouve said.
The sheriff’s office has been borrowing about $1.5 million each year “to try to make end’s meet year to year,” he said. The department is looking to bring back expenditures it had to cut due to budget constraints, he said. “We’d like to get all these things back into play so we don’t have to cut services,” LaBouve said. “That’s the one thing that we’re trying to avoid because we want to make sure we meet the needs of all our families here in St. Mary Parish.”
“Our operating expenses are at its lowest point in the last five years,” LaBouve said.
The sheriff is asking for the public’s support for the half-cent sales tax to solely benefit the St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Office in order to cover the department’s deficiencies, LaBouve said.
The department’s annual budget is $14 million, and the sales tax is expected to raise about $5 million each year in additional funds, he said.
Seventy-three percent of the sheriff’s office budget goes to pay salaries and medical expenses of employees, LaBouve said. “Eight of the last 10 years we’ve had to borrow money,” LaBouve said.
Since 1997, several federal and state mandates have been implemented, including the Prison Rape Elimination Act, LaBouve said. “With PREA, you have to have people with certain skill sets,” LaBouve said.
The state has mandates relating to work release program, he said. The sheriff’s office had to start adding more employees just to keep up with those programs, LaBouve said.
The state is trying to get out of the jail business and place that responsibility on sheriff’s departments, LaBouve said. State officials will call the sheriff’s office on a weekly basis to see if the jail is over capacity, he said. “If we’re five over our maximum count, they’ll come in and take five of our best inmates,” LaBouve said.
“We’ll call that basically our trustees that we want to put in a work release program,” he said. “They (the state) will take them so they can put them in a program.”
The sheriff’s office is left with the sick inmates and trouble inmates when the state comes and takes inmates out of the parish jail, he said. “Every time we lose these state inmates, our revenue sources go down,” he said.
The department’s revenue sources come from sales taxes, ad valorem taxes and fees, he said. “These different things are what are actually our revenue and those are down by over $600,000 annually,” LaBouve said. Medical expenses used to cost the department about $7,000 for an employee per year, but that number has risen to $12,000 per year, he said.
Fuels costs for the office’s fleet of vehicles has risen, going from $1,700 per vehicle to about $4,300 per vehicle, LaBouve said. “We used to spend about $790 on a car annually. … Our current number is almost $1,800 per car now,” he said.
The department’s fleet currently has 105 vehicles and includes some more fuel-efficient, smaller vehicles, LaBouve said.
Most of the fleet is being aged out with multiple vehicles having more than 300,000 miles on them, he said. The sheriff’s office has decreased employment from 210 employees to 170 employees, he said. “We didn’t terminate anyone. We didn’t lay off people,” LaBouve said. Instead, the department just did not replace people who left the sheriff’s office, he said.
The office also recently closed the jail on the seventh floor of the St. Mary Parish Courthouse, he said. “We’d really like to be back on that seventh floor,” LaBouve said. The extra space could be used to house state inmates along with inmates the sheriff’s office arrests on a daily basis, he said.
New technology has helped the department save money, he said. One example of using technology to cut costs is the ability now for deputies to use a laptop computer in their patrol cars, he said. The laptop computers allow officers to type reports in their patrol vehicles while staying in their assigned zones and turn the reports in at the end of their shifts, LaBouve said.
“That way they’re not caught back at the office and can respond faster to a call,” LaBouve said. Even in the midst of taking cost-saving measures, the sheriff’s office still has to borrow money each year, he said.
A sheriff is one of the few elected offices to make the sheriff responsible for any debts the office has upon his departure from the office, which means the government can take the sheriff’s retirement to pay off that debt, LaBouve said. “That’s why we push for things like this because he doesn’t want to be responsible for some major debt trying to provide those services,” LaBouve said.