LOUISIANA – About a month from now Louisiana voters will go to the polls to decide whether to approve a pair of real estate tax increases in support of their cash-strapped city government.

At their Monday, March 9 City Council committee meetings, city elected officials fixed the details of a Wednesday, March 25 informational meeting about the city’s financial situation. It will take place at 6 p.m. at the American Legion in Louisiana.

At Monday’s meeting, Mayor Marvin Brown suggested that the meeting start with a presentation from him followed by an opportunity for attendees to submit questions.

A little less than two week later, on election day, Tuesday, April 7, Louisiana voters will see two tax proposals on their ballot. One would add an additional 27 cent tax on every $100 of assessed value, with the revenue going to the city’s general fund. The second would add another 20 cents to create a dedicated source of funding for the city’s parks.

Brown said his presentation had been well received at the Louisiana Rotary Club and the Louisiana Chamber of Commerce.

At Monday’s meeting, council members reported skeptical comments about the proposal from their constituents.

“There are a lot of concerns,” Council member Bob Ringhausen said. “A lot of them have no clue what’s going on, how much it is, why it is, where it is.”

Council member Susan Fregeau said she had heard constituents quote wildly inaccurate salaries for city employees. Fregeau said that, as an accountant, she was happy to testify that the salaries were reasonable.

“I’m fine saying there’s not one salary that’s out of line, and in fact a lot of them are too low, and I can speak to that, because I’m done, and I’m tired of hearing all of these crazy rumors,” Fregeau said.

Fregeau, the chair of the Council’s finance committee, suggested that the ballot propositions would have a stronger chance if supporters could point to specific city priorities the money would go to.

“That’s the biggest thing I hear: ‘what are you doing with it’.” Fregeau said.

The city’s difficult financial situation — driven by tax revenue that hasn’t kept up with inflation — meant that much of the money would likely be spent keeping services operational, City Administrator Kelly Henderson suggested.

“I believe that this whole conversation started [because] if trends continued where they were at, we weren’t going to be able to continue the services, No. 1,  at the level they were at, and, No. 2, we would not be able to continue some services at all,” Henderson said. “[But] I get where you’re at: you pay for something, you want a shiny something in return for it.”

Brown’s presentation to the Rotary Club picked out some areas of focus: improving the city’s aging vehicle fleet, public safety, streets and keeping city salaries competitive.

For Ringhausen, the case for the proposals was straightforward: given rising costs and declining revenues, the city needed more money if it was going to make necessary improvements.

“I just don’t think it’s a time to be polite. It’s a time to lay the law down and say ‘here it is, folks. If you want to live here you need to support this, so we have sufficient revenue to keep the city ahead of where we’re at, rather than continually going down,’” Ringhausen said.

Ringhausen: Fire truck could be paid off in six years

Ringhausen, the chair of the committee’s public safety committee, told the Monday committees meeting that he and fire chief Philip Quattrocchi would present the council with a proposal to buy a used fire truck at their next Council meeting.

The truck would probably cost between $50,000 and $60,000, Ringhausen said. Payments for the truck could fit into the department’s budget, in Ringhausen’s estimate, provided the budget is not cut from next year.

The truck would replace a truck wrecked in a crash last year. Ringhausen said the truck was badly needed by the department. The previous weekend, Ringhausen said, the department had to rely on firefighters from Pleasant Hill, Ill., while Louisiana’s department responded to a call for aid from elsewhere in Pike County.

“They actually sent a truck over with men to man our fire department,” Ringhausen said. “We need another truck.”

Send questions and comments to athorp@pikecountynews.com.

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