BC property tax renewal: police fire chiefs appeal to voters

By Carolyn Roy – bio|email|Twitter

BOSSIER CITY, LA (KSLA) –  Bossier City's Police and Fire Chiefs say more than jobs are on the line in Saturday's property tax renewal vote.  The 6 mil property tax would generate $3 million dollars a year for police and fire department operations, including salaries and benefits.

Without it, they say they'll be forced to cut 30 jobs out of each department.  That would be in addition to the 40 jobs cut from police and fire on January 1, 2009, in order to help shore up the city's $6.5 million dollar budget shortfall for 2010.

Fire Chief Sammy Halphen says the additional cuts that would come with failure to approve the property tax renewal would reduce response times and effectiveness in protecting lives and property, "Every time you start reducing that you reduce your chances of success by major steps, and so with less people, your success at putting out a fire and making it still livable go down tremendously, and even more than that your chances of saving somebody in the first few minutes."

The cuts would also force the Fire Department to park fire trucks and close at least one fire station.  Based on call and activity statistics gathered as part of the last round of cutbacks, Halphen says the River Bend Fire Station #8 in South Bossier would likely be the first to close.

"For our size city, it becomes dangerous for us to staff with 30 less people and then on top of the 20 that we did in January, that would be 50 people, out of a department that had 228 to begin with.  That is enormous.  We start getting to where we're spread so thin that we actually shut down apparatus and stations that the citizens have already paid for."

On the Police Department side, newly appointed Chief Shane McWilliams says the 30 jobs would come out of the Patrol Division, effectively slashing it in half.  "That's almost impossible to overcome and maintain the level of service that we have.  We'll absolutely do everything that we can to try to maintain it.  But," McWilliams says, "in all reality, that's going to affect everything across the board.  It'll affect my Criminal Investigations Division, motorcycle and bicycle units, Division of Special Investigations.  We'll have to pull from all those units to try to get the staffing level back up from the patrol aspect to try to maintain the level of service that we've provided for years."

In an open letter to Bossier City voters, both Chiefs emphasized that "this is not a new tax.  It is a renewal and not in response to a budget deficit." It was first approved by voters in 1990.  They also point out that it is the only funding source for police, fire and emergency medical personnel salaries.  By state law, the tax must go before voters for renewal every ten years.  It was renewed by voters in 2000.  But property owners will pay more if it's renewed for a third time.  That's because the City Council was able to roll back the millage from 6 mils to 4.86 since the last renewal was approved in 2000, thanks to rising property values.  But by law, the property tax must be approved with the same millage rate as it carried when was originally approved.  The Chiefs' open letter lays out what this will mean in dollars and cents for individual taxpayers.

If the property tax renewal fails, the cuts would take effect January 1, 2011.

The polls open at 6 AM on Saturday in Bossier and will close at 8 PM.