Last Modified: Wednesday, July 09, 2014 12:26 PM
A handful of financial factors, some new and some old, were the source of a discussion started by Mayor Randy Roach at the end of Tuesday’s City Council agenda meeting. The discussion focused on the city possibly calling a quarter-cent sales tax election sometime in early December.
Beginning the conversation is just an early step in a lengthy process. The mixture of the 30 days’ notice that has to be given for any public hearing discussing a possible tax election and the other time delays, including the council meeting schedule, made Tuesday’s talk necessary even though no request has been made to the council to actually call the election.
“As you know, right now the city of Lake Charles collects a quarter-cent less in sales taxes than any other area in the parish,” Roach said. “What we’re asking to be done tonight is give notice, in accordance with state law, that on Aug. 20 we consider a resolution to call a quarter-cent tax election for Dec. 6.”
Some of the factors that have made the conversation about the tax necessary include a class action lawsuit, the city’s ongoing salary survey, retirement contributions, and enhancements to things like roads, drainage, utilities and public safety services.
The class action supplemental pay lawsuit was filed by members of the Lake Charles Police Department for the sum of $2 million. The amount would come out of the city’s general fund and be payable in four annual installments of $500,000.
Roach said the salary survey would ultimately indicate the need for the city to make adjustments to all pay ranges in its pay plan for career service and non-career positions and to the civil service pay plan for firefighters and police officers. This too, he said, would come out of the city’s general fund.
Roach also discussed the city’s higher-than-average employer retirement contribution rates, which are projected to continue over the next few years, costing the city an additional $2 million each year. This amount would also come out of the city’s general fund, Roach said.
“When you consider these demands and this lawsuit in light of the fact that we’re paying about $2 million per year more than we would on average in terms of retirement benefits for all employees, not just fire and police, at some point you have to ask yourself, ‘Can we continue to do what we need to do for our residents, the citizens of our community and be able to meet the demands that are being placed upon us with economic growth and development given the posture of the revenue structure that we have?’ ” he said.
Roach went on to read the official notice to the council. He reiterated how the financial issues the city will have to deal with in the future are forcing the present discussions about the possible tax.
“In light of these factors, in light of what’s been happening, in light of what we anticipate our budget to reflect, we feel that we need to at least put everyone on notice that we may need to ask for more revenue in order to be able to do what we need to do and be able to fund that budget,” Roach said.
Council Vice President Dana Jackson added some thoughts toward the end of the discussion. He talked about how he hoped residents would understand the need for not only the discussion on the tax, but its possible implementation somewhere down the road.
“I realize that taxes are probably the dirtiest words in politics, but when people get down and really start looking at why the city is doing this, I hope it will come to light and everybody understands that the city has crumbling infrastructure right now. We can’t retain our employees because they’re leaving for other jobs, fast,” Jackson said. “I hope everybody understands it when it finally goes to a vote.”