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|Changes proposed for road lighting districts|
Voters in Ouachita Parish's road lighting districts will be asked some time in 2009 to approve a change in the method they pay for road lighting service.
Parish attorney Jay Mitchell said the proposed change in billing will not affect the amount currently charged to residents in the road lighting districts.
"Entergy may come in and say we need to bump it up due to rising fuel costs, but this change is not on the cost, just the manner in which it is paid," Mitchell said.
Mitchell said there have been problems with collections in some districts within the parish. The proposed changes in billing would take care of those issues.
Currently, fees are collected by the police jury, which sends bills to residents living in the road lighting districts.
Any unpaid accounts must be resolved through the court, Mitchell said.
If voters approve the changes, road lighting fees will be placed on the property owner's tax bill, which is collected by the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office.
If a property owner does not pay his or her property taxes, the property could be seized by the sheriff and sold at auction.
East Baton Rouge Parish operates its road lighting districts in the same manner. Ouachita Parish was recently approved by the Legislature to be included in that statute.
"In order to take advantage of the new statute, we need to reauthorize the fees," Mitchell said. "It is important that it will appear on the tax bill, so instead of a bill going out (from the police jury), it will be paid to the sheriff."
Road lighting districts that do not agree with the proposed change would only continue to operate as long as the districts have funding for the service.
"It's important that we try to do as much as we can so people understand if they choose not to continue their lighting district, we're not going to turn right back around and bring it back up when they change their minds after the lights go out," said police juror Charles Jackson of West Monroe.
An election date in 2009 has not been set, Mitchell said.
The only election date available in 2008 to present the issue to voters is Nov. 4, Mitchell said.
That election date would not allow fees to be assessed on this year's property tax bills since the election would be held late in the year.
"They wouldn't be able to be assessed until next year," Mitchell said. "So based on that, the plan would be to pick one of the election dates in '09, and perhaps do some public information in each of the neighborhoods served by road lighting districts to let folks know what's going on and prepare them for the election so they can make an informed choice."
Mitchell also said there are several homeowners within the parish who want to form new road lighting districts.
The police jury asked homeowners interested in establishing road lighting districts in their neighborhoods to contact the parish.
If enough property owners in a neighborhood want a road lighting district, they will have a chance to vote on the matter when the current road lighting districts vote on the proposed billing changes in 2009.
According to Mitchell, the police jury would need a petition showing "a sizeable number of property owners are in favor of establishing a road lighting district."
Road lighting districts must be established by voter approval since residents will be charged an annual service fee for 10 years to pay for utility charges for road lighting and the improvements, maintenance, and operation of road lighting facilities and equipment.
When the police jury establishes new road lighting districts, Entergy creates a map of the district and determines how much to charge property owners for the maintenance and operation of the district. The fee could be as little as $15 annually, or $40 or more a year.
After that information has been established, the police jury can call an election. If voters approve of the measure, road lighting will be established and charges would begin to appear on property tax bills.