Slidell-area fire district seeks fee renewal on March 28 ballot

By Bob Warren, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

 

Eastern St. Tammany Parish voters will be asked March 28 to decide the renewal of a $39 parcel fee that brings in more than $1 million annually for St. Tammany’s Fire Protection Distrcit No. 1. The measure will share a ballot with a couple of Covington City Council races and a special race for a Slidell-area St. Tammany School Board seat.

Fire Chief Chris Kaufmann said the parcel fee brings in around $1.2 million, which is a small part of the district’s overall $18-million-plus overall budget. But, he said Wednesday (March 4), the fee generates revenue that’s important to the district.

“It allows us to do what is necessary to maintain the level of services we provide today,” Kaufmann said.

The district covers a wide swath of southeast St. Tammany Parish, from Lacombe to the Mississippi line and from Lake Pontchartrain to around Pearl River. The district includes the city of Slidell.

The renewal, if approved, would be for 10 years. The parcel fee applies to each piece of property within the fire district that includes a structure, Kaufmann said.

The fee remains the same regardless of changes in the property’s value. The district first pitched it in 2006, after Hurricane Katrina had devastated much of the property in the district.

“We had to diversify,” Kaufmann said. “We were one of the worst-hit taxing bodies after Katrina hit.”

Voters easily approved the fee in 2006 and Kaufmann said he doesn’t expect it to encounter wide scale opposition this time around.

“We feel we’re good stewards of the public’s money. We anticipate (the fee) passing with no problem. The public has been very good to us,” he said.

The district can use the revenue from the parcel fee for a wide range of expenses, from salaries and training to capital improvements.

The lion’s share of the district’s budget comes from revenues of a property tax capped at 35 mills. The district currently collects 33.5 mills. That millage was renewed around a year ago, Kaufmann said.

The district also receives some state revenue sharing money, but it is only several hundred thousand dollars annually, he said.

The district maintains eight fire stations and has 158 employees. It covers an area of around 89,000 residents.

Kaufmann said the district has plans to open a new station on Airport Road during 2015. Ground breaking is expected to take place sometime in May, he said.

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