The Southwest Louisiana Association of Realtors hosted a political forum this week for candidates in the state representative races for districts 33 and 35, Calcasieu Parish sheriff and tax assessor races, Calcasieu Parish Police Jury races for districts 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 and the BESE District 7 race. Not all candidates from each race were present.
Tricia Phillips with the Realtors Association said the questions asked related to home ownership.
Do you think each parish should be able to set its own homestead exemption?
Republican Les Farnum: “I don’t believe the state of Louisiana should compete for population and that’s exactly what they would have to do. You would have Lake Charles competing with Sulphur based on how much they pay in property taxes. Calcasieu would compete against Beauregard and Jeff Davis.” Farnum said he thinks the playing field ought to be as level as possible.
Incumbent Republican Stuart Moss: “I don’t think this is a good idea.” He noted different rates may prevent veterans or the elderly from moving freely around the state for fear of losing the assessments they have frozen in one parish that may not transfer to another.
Incumbent Republican Stephen Dwight said the question was difficult to answer with a “simples yes or a no.” His district covers territory in both Calcasieu and Beauregard parishes. “And their needs are drastically different,” he said. “You want to give each parish the right to figure out what their needs are.” He said the bigger issue statewide is how local governments are funded. “That’s why I think we need to look even bigger and actually start looking at redoing our constitution.” Dwight faces Republican Jacob Marceaux, who was not in attendance.
Calcasieu Parish Sheriff
What would you specifically do to reduce property crimes like theft and vandalism?
Elizabeth Gray-Carrier said she would deploy more officers to construction areas and encourage deputies to get to better know the communities they are policing by visiting residents and introducing themselves. “So they would get to know their community, get to know the kids and the elderly,” she said.
Incumbent Tony Mancuso said several months ago the sheriff’s office started the Real Time Crime Center, a partnership with local public agencies, municipalities and Ring, a home security company that makes outdoor motion detecting cameras like the Ring Video Doorbell. The CPSO has integrated its cameras with Ring’s system to solve crimes. Mancuso said the department has invested in mobile camera systems that email and text in real time. “So, we’ve caught many of these in the act and are solving some of these problems now,” he said. “Most of it (crime) is drug related and they’re going to do what they’ve got to do to get drugs,” he said. So, stopping it completely is nearly impossible. But we try.”
Jimmy Richard, who was not in attendance, is also on the ballot for sheriff.
Calcasieu Parish Assessor
How will you ensure politics and favoritism do not affect the assessment of property taxes?
Incumbent Wendy Aguillard said the assessor’s office doesn’t collect taxes, send out notices or set the tax rate, which is up to the individual taxing districts. “How do you prevent favoritism and erroneous assessment? You say no,” she said.
“You do the right thing, work hard, assess properties fairly and equitably for everyone. If anyone is telling you the assessor can lower your taxes, you are being mislead.”
Michael Moore said if he’s elected assessor “we’re going to follow the law.” He said the tax commission audits frequently to ensure there is no favoritism or politics in the assessments. “I’m going to welcome the tax commission to come do ratio studies,” he said.
BESE District 7
Calcasieu ranked 7th most improved school district in the state for 2017-18 school year. What will you do to ensure this improvement continues?
Incumbent Holly Boffy said such improvement requires partnership. “There’s work I do at the state level and work educators do at the local level to make that happen,” she said. She said BESE policies support improvement through funding and policies. “By focusing on growth in our accountability system, we are helping educators understand what trajectory each child should be on so when they graduate from high school they are ready for college and career,” she said.
Timala Melancon said Calcasieu has 66 school facilities and of those 20 percent are excelling. “We should be very proud of that,” she said. “Unfortunately, 12 percent are failing. And that’s a 12 percent that we seriously need to be concentrating on.” Melancon said if elected she would work toward ensuring all students are reading at grade level by second grade with smaller class sizes in pre-K through second, and para and master teachers in each class focusing solely on literacy. She said sitting a child in front of a computer for six weeks out of the school year is not working.
Calcasieu Parish Police Jury
What transportation infrastructure in your district need maintenance or improvements and what would that be?
David Stutes said the Police Jury needs to make sure all the roads are in good shape. He pegged drainage as the biggest infrastructure need in the Moss Bluff area. “Getting the water back to the east side of U.S. 171 is a major issue,” he said. Cleaning the bayous and ditches and replacing culverts at no cost for the elderly are on his to do list also. Roger Marcantel and Tony O’Banion are running against Stutes and were not in attendance.
Incumbent Judd Bares said the recent widening of La. 27-1256 corridor was “not good enough.” He said the parish is having the intersections at Patton Street and Carlyss Drive at 1256 and Dave Dugas Road at La. 27 re-engineered for turning lanes and utilities are being moved. Bares said he has two projects on his wish list. Carlyss Drive is slated for extension east to Beglis Parkway. “I would like to straighten it out and extend to Arena Road,” he said. He also wants a major interchange at Fabacher Road, near the proposed mega-site. “Ward 7 is fixing to blow up and there’s opportunity around that intersection,” he said. That would open up that whole area and Ward 7 would have a tax base like it has never seen.”
Layne Hardin said his wish list would be to open up the roadways in Ward 7 to take some of the traffic out of Sulphur. “We’d open up Walker straight into Gum Island Road, building a bridge over Choupique” he said. He said an overpass is needed over Pete Seay Road and Choupique Road, to allow for interstate access.
Joe Andrepont listed the rebuilding of the I-10 bridge as the primary need for his district. Secondly, he wants to see La. 27 to be four-laned from Sulphur to DeQuincy and widening of La. 27 south to the Ellender Bridge. Though not in his district, Andrepont wants to see provisions made for the Currie Street bridge replacement project in District 12. He said the project will leave Cypress Cove Elementary with only one outlet for ingress and egress and he proposes a temporary emergency exit.
Randall Gibbons and Georgina Graves, also on the District 13 ballot, were not in attendance.
Randy Burleigh said the I-10 bridge project is vital, not only for Westlake but for Southwest Louisiana as a whole. “Not only do we need a new bridge, but within that bridge we need an exit and entrance ramp over the railroad tracks in and out of Westlake. He said a state project that needs to be pushed is the completion of the five-laning of La.. 378 from Westlake to Moss Bluff. “And we really need a north loop in this parish,” he said. “We need to be forward-thinking. We have the south loops at 2-10, but how much would it help us if we had a north loop starting in Sulphur and tied in close to where 2-10 ties in to 1-10 on each side of Lake Charles.”
Damon Goss, who was not in attendance, is also on the District 14 ballot.
Guy McLendon said, being that it’s federal interstate, he will leave the I-10 bridge project in President Donald Trump’s hands. He said he would like to see U.S. 90 four-laned to Interstate 10 and Coach Williams Road expanded to four lanes all the way to Old Spanish Trail.
Tony Tramonte said he would like to extend Coach Williams Drive to Houston River Road to relieve the stress on Maplewood Drive. He said the exit from La. 108 heading to Interstate 2-10 needs to be widened to a four lane all the way to the 2-10 ramp. “That would relieve a lot of the stress of people trying to cut all the way across to the inside and stop some of these wrecks and stop us from sitting in traffic for 45 minutes,” he said.