Published: L'observateur Newspaper
LAPLACE - St. John Parish voters are being asked to rededicate tax funding to increase the scope of local judicial juvenile services.
Parish Chief Financial Officer Ross B. Gonzales said local residents are going to weigh in on the matter at the polls Dec. 10 after St. John the Baptist Parish Council members recently approved a special election.
According to Gonzales, the parish currently collects 1 mill in ad valorem tax, generating more than $400,000 annually for housing and detaining juvenile offenders.
While stressing this is not a new tax, simply a rededication initiative, Gonzales said December’s election asks voters to expand the tax revenue scope to include funding various personnel associated with juvenile justice services, as well as equipment, transportation and preventative measures.
“We feel like it is a natural fit,” Gonzales said. “We’re collecting more than $400,000 a year and we’re not spending that amount of money housing juveniles. We can’t use the excess money to try to put some preventative measures in place.
“I would say (the tax revenue could be used) in a more positive light of preventing juvenile delinquency. That’s the goal. If you save one kid, you can’t put a price on that.”
While addressing Council members, Parish President Natalie Robottom said the Parish is making sure funding under the rededication proposal benefits juveniles.
“It will be less burdensome on the general fund,” she said.
The funding will ultimately include improving the home monitoring program, which Robottom said is a much better option for juveniles than being incarcerated, which the parish pays for at neighboring facilities.
Gonzales said although the current tax is dedicated to the needs of juveniles, the structure severely restricts how those funds can be used. He cited, as an example, funding for a juvenile probation officer or transporting juveniles is currently being paid from the general fund.
Gonzales said two administrative assistants in the FINS: Families in Needs of Services program are paid for out of the parish’s criminal court fund.
“Those are three salaries where 100 percent of their time is spent on juveniles but we cannot use that funding source to pay for them,” Gonzales said.
“As of today, you can’t use the ad valorem tax for that purpose, but if it gets rededicated, that will be a valid expenditure.”
According to Gonzales, St. John voters previously approved the millage to run through 2029.