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|Police jury sets deadline for road lighting districts|
Neighborhoods interested in establishing a new road lighting district are urged to contact Ouachita Parish officials soon so residents will be able to vote on the matter Oct. 17.
Voters in Ouachita Parish's existing road lighting districts will be asked Oct. 17 to approve a change in the method they utilize to pay for road lighting service.
Parish residents also will have the chance to vote on establishing new road lighting districts in their neighborhoods during the October election.
Police juror Charles Jackson said the parish will need petitions from neighborhoods asking for a new road lighting district by mid-May at the latest.
The police jury, along with Entergy, compiled a list of frequently asked questions with answers to provide to local residents interested in road lighting districts. That list can be viewed at the bottom of this article.
The biggest concern among residents most likely will be the cost of road lighting services, Jackson said.
The cost will vary depending on several factors, including the number of lights, the number of taxpayers in the district and whether the electrical utilities are overhead or buried.
In general, for a lighting district with overhead utilities, the cost per taxpayer would be roughly $35 annually. For buried utilities, the cost would be around $70 per year.
Karen Cupit, police jury senior accountant, said homeowners should gather a petition of people in their neighborhood who are in favor of establishing a road lighting district.
Since it costs money to place measures on a ballot to be considered by voters, the police jury wants to make sure there is enough interest in new road lighting districts before moving forward at the ballot box.
The police jury would like to see at least 50 percent of the people in a subdivision in favor of the concept, or at least 30 homes within a road lighting district.
"We don't want the police jury to form a district and then nobody really wants it," Cupit said. "You want to show the jury that there is enough interest in this so they can then proceed in forming a district. Then you get Entergy to design what you want. That's the time when cost is figured and the proposition is put together so it can be put on the ballot."
Jackson added, "There is a cost associated with having an election, and if it fails, the police jury winds up eating that cost."
The police jury can create a road lighting district, but to levy an annual fee, it must be approved by a majority of the voters in that district.
"We've had the jury create a district before and it failed," Cupit said. "We don't put up lights until it's all voted on and taken care of."
Regarding the change in billing, parish attorney Jay Mitchell said it would not affect the amount currently charged to residents in road lighting districts. The reason behind the change, Mitchell said, was because of problems with collections in some districts in 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 district court system.
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.
Police juror Pat Moore said the awareness process will be important to let people know about road lighting districts.
"For the longest time, people have not paid and now we are telling them they are responsible for paying that bill," Moore said. "Their concern is the cost. We've got to get out there and let them know the consequences of what will happen if they vote against it. Lights will turn off.
"We've got to let them know of the benefits of keeping their neighborhoods safe. When the lights turn off you're in a neighborhood where it's pitch dark and you can't see anything. We need lighting and we need everybody to share the cost. We want safe neighborhoods and this is one piece that will help neighborhoods be safe."
Cupit said one road lighting district in the past voted to disband their district. However, when the lights were turned off, she said almost every homeowner called the police jury complaining about darkness.
Four neighborhoods have already expressed interest in creating new road lighting districts, Mitchell said. If neighborhoods are not able to get information ready to present to the police jury by May, Mitchell said they could possibly vote on new road lighting districts during another election, probably in spring 2010.
For more information about road lighting districts, contact Cupit at the police jury at 327-1340.
Frequently Asked Questions
about Ouachita Parish Road Lighting Districts
Q. What is a Road Lighting District?
A. A Road Lighting District is a unit established by the Police Jury to provide street lighting. The lighting bill is paid by the Parish from assessments collected within the individual district. Most Road Lighting Districts in Ouachita Parish are created within individual subdivisions.
Q. How much does it cost to be in a Road Lighting District?
A. The cost varies depending on several factors including the number lights, the number of taxpayers in the district, the type of lights, and whether the electrical utilities are overhead or buried and the number of lights placed. In general, for a lighting district with overhead utilities the cost per taxpayer will be approx $35 annually; for buried utilities it will be closer to $70.
Q. Is the assessment the same every year?
A. The assessment can vary from year to year. The annual assessment is set based on expected expenses for the coming year. If a balance accumulates the assessment can be lowered to use up the surplus. The assessment will never be more than the amount specified in the ordinance establishing/renewing the lighting district.
Q. Why is the amount on the election call greater than what you indicated in the question above?
A. Because the Lighting Districts are only renewed every 10 years it is important to ensure that there is provision for higher energy expenses in future years is needed.
Q. How is the Road Lighting District funded?
A. In the past the Jury has sent individual bills to residents in the Road Lighting Districts. After the Lighting District elections this fall Lighting Assessments will be placed on property tax bills. This will save money and be more efficient.
Q. I am homestead-exempt, does this mean I will get a property tax bill?
A. Yes. Because it is an assessment rather than a millage, the Road Lighting District charge is not subject to homestead exemption. If you have a mortgage the assessment will be paid by your mortgage holder from the funds they collect from you each year for escrow expenses.
Q. I live in an apartment/rent house; will I get a bill?
A. Because the assessment is on the tax bill for the property owner, those who rent will not get a bill.
Q. I live in subsidized housing; will I get a bill?
A. Because the assessment is on the tax bill for the property owner, those who rent subsidized housing will not get a bill.
Q. If my area has a lighting district, does this mean I get a light in MY yard?
A. In general, one light is placed for every four houses. This can vary somewhat depending on the size of lots. We also try to light intersections in larger districts.
Q. I don't WANT a light!
A. No one is required to have a light placed in their yard against their wishes; however, if you live in a Road Lighting District you will still be required to pay the annual assessment.
Q. I WANT a light in my yard but the closest one is two houses down. What can I do?
A. You are allowed to have your own light even if you live in a Road Lighting District. Entergy has existing arrangements for any homeowners who want individual lights; they are billed to the individual homeowner. You can contact Entergy for more information. In general, individual lights can cost from $15-$20 per MONTH.
Q. My neighbors and I have wanted lighting for sometime now. How do we get started?
A. There will be elections this fall for road lighting districts. The first step is to contact the Ouachita Parish Police Jury and express interest. The Jury can give you a general sense for how much a district in your area will cost. You will be expected to present a petition containing the signatures of more than 50% of the residents in the area. Your Juror will work with you to ensure the District appears to be viable and appropriate, then introduce the ordinances to establish the District and add it to the election call.
Q. Are there time limits to setting up a Road Lighting District?
A. YES!!!! Elections for small entities like the Road Lighting Districts can be relatively expensive. In order to minimize the cost the Jury tries to hold Lighting District Elections at the same time as major state or local elections. In order to get you District set for the Fall Election it is important to get your paperwork in order by early May. Please contact the Ouachita Parish Police Jury at 327-1340 for more information.