Jefferson Parish voters set to decide on millage increase to fund sheriff’s office hiring, raises
“Last time we have had a property tax increase was when the millage was set, which was in 1974,” said Sheriff Joe Lopinto.
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - When Jefferson Parish voters head to the ballot box on Saturday, April 30, they’ll decide on a potential millage increase put forward by Sheriff Joseph Lopinto to fund the hiring of nearly 250 positions and pay raises for sheriff’s office employees.
The department has 247 vacancies as of late March, representing around 17 percent of the office’s 1,474 authorized positions. According to Lopinto, JPSO is short around 120 corrections positions, 30 to 40 deputies, as well as some detectives and 911 operators.
The property tax increase voters will decide on would be seven mills and would last 10 years.
“I believe 7 mills is an appropriate number to be able to give me enough to fund a significant pay raise for our deputies and employees of the sheriff’s office, and hopefully be able to turn the tide,” Lopinto said. “Instead of having a trickle effect outward, having a trickle effect inward, which we’ll need over the next several years.”
Lopinto said his agency isn’t immune from staffing shortages, but he hopes to stop the losses before they become a major problem. Next door, the New Orleans Police Department is facing a critical manpower shortage, with the police association saying the department has lost nearly 50 officers just since the start of the year.
If passed, the millage increase would also be used to provide department-wide raises. According to a recently released report from the non-profit, non-partisan Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR), the tax revenue would be used to raise employee salaries by an average of 25 percent.
“I don’t like new taxes. I don’t want to pay new taxes. But at the end of the day, it’s about our community here in Jefferson Parish, making sure we’re keeping up with the services that our citizens ask us to provide, and I think we do a good job of that and I hope they see that,” Lopinto said. “They’re out there to support us every day, putting their lives on the line in order to make sure when you call 911, when you’re having a bad day, that we’re going to be there quickly and we’re going to handle the problem that’s at task.”
Jefferson Parish lags behind surrounding agencies when it comes to pay, according to the BGR report. The starting salary for deputies in Jefferson is $38,745, compared to $50,557 for NOPD, $42,000 for Kenner, $42,854 for Gretna and $49,449 for Louisiana State Police.
JPSO has also seen a dramatic rise in vacancies, from 102 last year to nearly 250 so far this year.
“About nine months ago, they were down about 100 people. Now they’re down about 247 people,” said Becky Mowbray, President, and CEO of BRG. “Jefferson Parish had the third lowest wages among law enforcement agencies in the area, and if this proposed tax increase passes on April 30th, they will go up to being the third highest.”
The property tax increase would equate to roughly $143 a year for a property valued at $279,000. It would generate around $28 million annually, and would be the primary funding source for the $36.8 million dollar plan to raise salaries and fill all open positions.
Lopinto said he’s open to rolling back the millage increase if surpluses get too high, but he doesn’t anticipate that happening.
“Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office isn’t broke. I don’t have to lay off anybody. But I didn’t have the ability to give them the raises they deserve to have,” Lopinto said. “I probably could have given them a five percent raise. A five percent raise on a 35, 40 thousand dollar a year job is not a lot of money by any means, and it really is a slap in the face because it’s been years since they’ve had a significant raise by any means.”
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