Lincoln Parish Sheriff Mike Stone is seeking a permanent sales tax increase to fund his growing law enforcement empire at the expense of cash-strapped parish residents struggling to make ends meet.
Stone is plowing ahead with plans to place a permanent quarter-cent sales tax on the April ballot along with a reauthorization of the expiring 7.83 mil ad valorem tax that funds the sheriff’s operations. This new tax would confiscate an estimated $1.8 million annually from Lincoln Parish residents based on 2010 sales data. The ad valorem (property) tax consists of a constitutionally mandated 5.02 mils in perpetuity along with the 7.83 mils reauthorized every ten years by parish voters for a total of 12.85 mils. Most Louisiana sheriffs make do with the constitutionally mandated 5.02 mils, but Lincoln Parish Sheriff Mike Stone enjoys the use of the additional 7.83 mils despite the fact that the population of Lincoln Parish has remained fairly constant for the last forty years.
This table clearly shows that Stone’s claim of operating on the same millage for the past twenty years belies the fact that revenues have increased as property tax assessments have increased, thus increasing tax collections. Stone has long coveted the construction of a separate Taj Mahal style public safety complex on parish property located across from the Lincoln Parish Detention Center on Road Camp Road. The sheriff has squirreled away enough Homeland Security grant money to fund construction of the 30,000 sq. ft. complex, but lacks operating funds, hence the need for additional taxes on Lincoln Parish residents struggling to cope with the worst economy since the Great Depression to fund his lavish empire. Incoming new members of the Police Jury are considering the sale of this property to fund a shortfall in the Lincoln Parish Detention Center budget arising from the poor deal with LaSalle Corrections which stipulates a minimum funding level that increases with the number of prisoners housed.
Usually, projects such as this and the proposed new courthouse are sprung on voters when times are flush and taxpayers are busy enjoying bountiful economic times. That way, they’re not paying enough attention to government affairs to question such absurdity and certainly not thinking of having to pay for such ideas when times turn bad. Lincoln Parish officials are tired of waiting and figure times aren’t going to get any better for a long while, so they are plunging ahead in the hopes that voters will buy the lame idea that the courthouse is old and needs replacing. The fact is that there is nothing wrong with the present courthouse that a little paint and maintenance won’t fix far more cheaply than replacing the entire complex.
As for complaints from the sheriff that he doesn’t have enough space, that problem could easily be fixed with some much needed workforce reductions to more properly align his office with the stable population needs of Lincoln Parish. Lincoln Parish is a mostly rural parish with low crime whose major metropolitan area (Ruston) has its own police force to cover its needs. The sheriff is responsible for the stable, low crime parts of the parish falling outside city limits. We don’t face a terrorist threat despite what Stone would have us believe. No self-respecting terrorist would propose an attack on such a remote location as Lincoln Parish. Despite the odds for success, few outside Louisiana would notice and even fewer would care.
Stone’s proposed new public safety complex located in the heart of rural north Louisiana strikes me as the sort of thing we would expect Barney Fife to propose to Andy for Mayberry. Barney was always convinced there was a major crime wave about to break open in Mayberry as he checked for his bullet and called for a dragnet to be cast over the rural burg. Mayberry’s biggest recurring crime was Otis’ weekly visits to the local moonshiner which he at least had the good sense to police himself. Lincoln Parish’s parallel crime concerns the more modern scourge of meth labs and marijuana; hardly the stuff of CSI and the Untouchables.
Given this, Lincoln Parish voters struggling to stretch thin paychecks amid national recession, a falling dollar, high unemployment, reduced prospects for college graduates, and a declining industrial base are being asked to part with their hard-earned money to fund Stone’s ability to cast a dragnet over the parish. Voters will also be asked to pass a school board tax to fund construction of a new football stadium for Ruston High School because the powers that be feel the current stadium is also old and outdated much like the courthouse, and that their students deserve to play in modern facilities despite the fact they are often underprepared educationally for the transfer to neighboring Louisiana Tech.
So, the voters of Lincoln Parish have to decide whether the construction of lavish new facilities to satisfy the egos of a few parish leaders outweigh their ability to provide for their families. You won’t notice the hunger or think about the missed payments as you gaze upon these marvelous facilities secure in the knowledge that Lincoln Parish has the finest facilities of their kind in the state. You can push the thoughts of realizing your personal dreams aside as you bask in the glow these monuments to public service egos are sure to provide. Really? Surely by now voters have figured out that it’s not for the kids, but for the public service employees that they are asked to pony up more tax money. They want nice offices to go along with their gold-plated public sector benefits, salaries that are often higher than their private sector equivalents, and lifetime employment without fear of economic downturns. It’s time to vote down all of these taxes and force Lincoln Parish officials to live on the same amounts other Louisiana parishes get by with.