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|Chambers endorse property tax for OPFD|
The West Monroe-West Ouachita and Monroe chambers of commerce decided this week to support a proposed property tax renewal for the Ouachita Parish Fire Department.
Parish voters will be asked Oct. 17 to renew a 10-year, 19.11 mill property tax to pay for operations of the Ouachita Parish Fire Department.
Chief Pat Hemphill is optimistic voters will recognize efforts by the fire department and parish officials to improve the department.
Blake Wheelis, chairman of the West Monroe chamber, said Hemphill and his staff have done "an outstanding job of controlling cost and holding expenses to a minimum while being effective and responsive."
"Due to a roll-back, this renewal is less than the millage renewal approved four years ago," Wheelis said. "We feel it is critical to the well-being of our community to support this funding."
Doug Salter, vice president of the Monroe chamber's governmental division, commended the Ouachita Parish Police Jury and Hemphill for "the tremendous effort they have made to establish an efficient, cost effective and well run parish fire system."
"As the voice of business in our region, it is our responsibility to ensure that taxing authorities are good stewards of the people's money," Salter said. "This is particularly true for ad valorem taxes, since 86 percent comes from parish businesses."
Voters in 2005 approved a millage rate of 19.24, but in 2008, the police jury agreed to roll back that millage rate to the current 19.11 rate.
That was done due to the sound financial situation of the fire department. Finances were better than anticipated in 2008 because of some unexpected revenue during the year.
The current property tax expires at the end of 2009.
According to Hemphill, when the property tax was up for renewal previously, local officials preferred to ask voters to approve a four-year property tax.
Proponents of the four-year property tax wanted the fire department to get its operations in order over that four-year time frame, Hemphill said.
In a recent interview with The Ouachita Citizen, Hemphill said, "We've got our operations stabilized. We did have a workforce reduction since the last election, but we have everything back in line and we're living within our budget now. We paid off all of our debt and got our fund balance back in better shape. The way things are looking — unless something unforeseen comes up — we should be fine operating with the same amount we're collecting now. I think we have shown we are taking care of business. Everything has been stabilized and in good shape, and now we're working on improving the fire rating."
The parish fire department currently has a class 5 rating.
The department's class rating determines how much money parish property owners pay for homeowner's insurance. The highest rating, or best rating, is a class 1.
The Property Insurance Association of Louisiana determines the rating for each fire department in the state.