MANDEVILLE, LA (WVUE) - After two major tax defeats in St. Tammany Parish, new realities are starting to sink in. More than 100 positions are going unfilled, fees are likely to go up, and plans for a new emergency operations center are on hold.
St. Tammany voters made it clear they don't want to pay any more in sales taxes, but they now face hiring freezes and layoffs.
"That's what hits you the most. These are real people," said Parish President Pat Brister.
St. Tammany government is looking at a $15 million deficit after voters rejected two quarter-cent sales tax renewals, and a parish working group is out with recommendations.
"Some of the fees haven't been raised in 16 years. We're talking about development," said budget work group member Kyle France
Things like development and dog licensing fees will likely go up in the next couple of months, and the parish is looking at outsourcing services like courthouse security.
"We pay the sheriff a contract to do that, but we will look outside for a private company," said Brister.
The parish is also looking at selling or leasing the Towers building in Slidell that houses several government offices. But officials insist those offices will relocate in the Slidell area if a buyer is found. The working group also recommends considering selling or leasing other buildings like the Bush Community Center, the St. Tammany fairgrounds and the public defender building in Covington.
And plans for a new emergency operations center are on hold. The parish will likely lose a $5 million FEMA grant that was to help fund it.
St. Tammany residents pay some of the highest taxes in the state to fund things like the coroner's office, schools and libraries.
"We probably have one of the most well-funded library systems I've ever seen," said France.
But those funds are dedicated, leaving parish government to handle things like roads, drainage, the justice center and jails on less than $12 million. Large reserve funds are now being dipped into, but officials say there's a risk.
"If there is an emergency or a rainy day, you don't have backup," said Brister.
Parish officials say they may go before the council before the end of the year in their effort to raise fees almost across the board.
The working group says at some point, as reserve funds dwindle in the next two years, tax measures should be put before voters again. But at this time, Brister says she has no plans to do so.