Parish officials prepare for cuts as voters reject tax renewals a 3rd time

SLIDELL, LA (WVUE) - The third time was not the charm for a pair of sales tax renewals that went down in defeat, and parish officials are reacting angrily and making dire predictions for the future.

When it comes to two sales tax renewals - one to fund the jail and the other for the justice center - the people have spoken.

"We will have to cut across the board," said Parish President Pat Brister.

The two renewals combined would have cost voters, 4/10ths of a penny in sales tax, generating $18 million a year - money that the parish must now find somewhere else.

"We can't do it. You can't add $15 million of expenses onto the $14 million in the general fund now," said St Tammany Councilman Gene Bellisario.

Parish leaders say options are limited.

"It's a monumental task. Our taxes are dedicated. We can't just take road and drainage and put it over there," said Brister.

But the activist group Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, which criticized the taxes on social media, said voters did the right thing.

"People are tired of taxes and the lack of transparency," said Rick Franzo with CCST.

Parish officials say they held meetings with and provided information to CCST about the taxes.

"I think they did us all a was wrong," said Brister.

Parish officials have said defeat of the taxes could force closure of offices at the administration building in Slidell, and that has officials worried.

"I would certainly encourage parish officials to do whatever they can to maintain the building here so they can continue to use the facility," said Slidell Mayor Freddy Drennan.

Drennan is also a former law-enforcement officer who worries about the defeat of the jail tax

"I would certainly be concerned if we could no longer hold the prisoners that need to be held," said Drennan.

That would appear to be a real possibility. The St. Tammany sheriff says his office is disappointed and will adjust, but as parish leaders begin planning for an $18 million deficit and  layoffs, they say prisoner releases are possible.

"He's required by DOJ to have so many security people per prisoner, and if he doesn't have the people, he has to release prisoners," said Brister.

No word yet, on when that may happen.

The tax failure will also impact services for the mentally ill and the hungry in St. Tammany.

Brister said a hiring and salary freeze has already cost the parish about 100 jobs, and hurt things like road maintenance and code enforcement.

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