Last Modified: Saturday, June 30, 2012 9:59 PM
Rookie Calcasieu Parish Police Juror Nick Hunter likely poked a stick in a hornet’s nest last week when he told the American Press local government entities need to study consolidation of services.
Despite the potential stings, it’s a conversation that’s long overdue.
Hunter called on the Police Jury to discuss consolidating the more than 40 special service districts that include drainage, sewer, water and fire districts.
“There are multiple parishes and other counties that operate in a more efficient manner without so many special services districts,” he said. “We have a somewhat antiquated system. I would like to consider other alternatives to allow parish tax dollars to be spent more efficiently.”
Hunter’s heart and head are in the right place. If he’s to be faulted, it is that his call is too timid.
He challenged fellow police jurors and asked parish and city planning departments to work together.
That’s a starting point. But it’s time to bring all public entities to the table to discuss needless redundancies and duplications of services that ultimately cost individual and corporate taxpayers in the parish.
Calcasieu Parish has a successful history of consolidation. In the mid-1960s, the city school system was merged into the Calcasieu Parish system. Likewise, Lake Charles city and Calcasieu Parish library systems were combined to form one of the best library systems in the state.
We’ve long advocated that drainage, sewer and water districts should be abolished and their duties transferred to parish-wide oversight.
The parish and municipalities should also try to determine whether their public works departments are another area that may be ripe for consolidation.
The big elephant in the room is law enforcement within the parish.
Consider this: The Lake Charles Police Department enforces the law within the city’s limit, where more than one-third of Calcasieu Parish’s population resides. Yet, LCPD functions with a force that is about 20 percent the size of the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office.
If a merger of these two agencies isn’t feasible, are there services or equipment that can be shifted or shared? Just recently, the LCPD asked the City Council to approve a grant to train and equip a scuba diving unit. That’s a sheer luxury, considering the CPSO has a fully equipped dive team in place and how relatively little waterways fall within the LCPD’s jurisdiction.
Too often suggestions of consolidation have fallen on tin ears. For those potentially affected boards and agencies, protecting their turf trumps serving taxpayers’ best interests.
Hunter talks of spending taxpayers’ money more efficiently. That’s a worthy goal.
But imagine if some of these consolidations would not only save taxpayer money, but would result in lower property and sales taxes.
An impossible dream, you say? Only if Calcasieu Parish residents don’t demand an honest, open discussion on government consolidation and action where it makes sense.
This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Dennis Spears, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.