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|Taxes, Supreme Court race top ballot|
Ouachita Parish voters will head to the polls Saturday to decide a number of measures, including two property tax proposals, a Louisiana Supreme Court election and a number of road lighting district propositions.
Ouachita Parish Registrar of Voters Christa Medaries said approximately 1,818 people voted during the early voting period last week. Her office also received 401 absentee ballots through the mail.
She said the Ouachita Parish Clerk of Court's office expects a light turnout Saturday. They say roughly 10 percent of registered voters will participate in the election.
However, Medaries was surprised at the number of people who voted early for the election.
"In my opinion, it was busier than what we thought it would be," she said.
One of the more prominent measures on Saturday's ballot is the proposed 1.8-mill property tax to help pay for an incentives package local governments pledged to help lure the V-Vehicle automotive manufacturing company to Ouachita Parish. The cities of Monroe and West Monroe as well as the Ouachita Parish Police Jury agreed to contribute toward a $15 million incentives package to help convince V-Vehicle Co. to take over the former Guide plant in eastern Ouachita Parish.
Besides the $15 million incentives package, the state committed some $134 million in incentives for V-Vehicle. V-Vehicle also has applied for a more than $300 million loan from the Department of Energy to aid the start-up company, which has plans to manufacture fuel-efficient automobiles.
The proposed property tax in Ouachita cannot be assessed for more than 15 years. It would cover the $11.5 million obligation the two cities and the police jury pledged. Once the local obligation is fulfilled, the property tax must be canceled. That is expected to occur within eight years.
OEDC Land Corp. and the I-20 Economic Development Corp. will pay the remainder of the $15 million incentives package.
The election to name Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor's successor is another contest generating interest locally as well as throughout northeastern and central Louisiana.
Traylor represented the 4th District of the Supreme Court since his election to the post in 1996. He retired from the bench in late May to pursue a legal career in private practice.
Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Marcus Clark faces fellow Republican Jimmy Faircloth, an attorney from Pineville who stepped down as Gov. Bobby Jindal's executive counsel to run for Supreme Court.
Clark, of West Monroe, was first elected to 4th Judicial District Court in 1996. Prior to that, he served as an assistant district attorney in the 4th Judicial District Attorney's office. Before he earned his law degree at LSU, Clark was a law enforcement officer.
The other property tax on Saturday's ballot is a proposition to renew a 10-year, 19.11-mill property tax to pay for operations of the Ouachita Parish Fire Department. Revenues generated by the property tax cover roughly one-half of the fire department's $12 million annual budget.
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 the year.
When the fire department's property tax was up for renewal in the past, local officials preferred to ask voters to approve a four-year property tax, according to Chief Pat Hemphill.
Proponents of the four-year property tax wanted the fire department to get its financial 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.
Also on the ballot are 30 road lighting district propositions. Some residents will decide whether they want a road lighting district established in their neighborhood.
Several parish officials have said that one of the biggest concerns among residents in the proposed road lighting districts was cost.
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.
Those residents already living in road lighting districts will be asked to approve a change in the method they utilize to pay for road lighting service.
The reason behind the proposed change is due to problems with collections in some districts in the parish. The proposed changes in billing would take care of those issues, parish attorney Jay Mitchell said.
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 state 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.
Other elections include:
Constable, Justice of the Peace, Ward 6:
Three Calhoun men and a Downsville man are all vying for Ward 6 Constable Saturday.
William "Bill" Matheny, R-Calhoun, was appointed interim Ward 6 Constable in March after Mike Lee resigned as constable of Ward 6 when it was learned he was a convicted felon.
However, Matheny's decision to run for the post irked the Ouachita Parish Police Jury, whose members said they would not have appointed Matheny if they knew of his intention to run for the position.
Also running for Ward 6 Constable are Michael Bruce Colvin, Democrat, of Downsville; Bobby Joe Graves, Republican, of Calhoun; and Donald R. Price, Republican, of Calhoun.
Ouachita Parish Police Jury District D:
Two candidates are vying for the District D Ouachita Parish Police Jury seat to fulfill the unexpired term of the late Dorth "Coach" Blade who passed away this year.
Both candidates are Democrats. They are former police juror Daryll Berry and Ollibeth Reddix.
Richwood mayor recall:
Richwood residents also will be asked whether they want to recall Mayor Steve Hunter Saturday.
Last week, 4th Judicial District Judge Wilson Rambo denied Hunter's motion to end the recall election.
Justice of the Peace, Ward 1:
Two candidates also face each other for Justice of the Peace in Ward 1. They are Democrat Shawn D. Greer of Monroe and Lynnette Vining, Republican, of Monroe.