Bossier tax proposals divide parish

If approved, the propositions would provide teacher pay raises and upgrades to technology

Bossier tax proposals divide parish

BOSSIER PARISH, LA (KSLA) - Two property tax proposals have divided Bossier Parish for the past few months. Voters head to the polls Saturday to cast their ballots.

The proposals would fund two things: raises for teachers and staffers, and technology improvements for the school district.

If your child goes to Parkway High School, you may know Anna Welch.

She’s spent the past five years teaching in Bossier schools, but the classroom is not the only place you’ll find her.

After school, she works a second job at Southfield Grill in Shreveport.

Anna Welch working her second job after teaching.
Anna Welch working her second job after teaching. (Source: Maranda Whittington)

Welch admits money was always a little tight. After she started caring for niece and other circumstances hit her family, the single mom took on this extra job last summer.

“Something is always getting pushed to the back burner, so I’m keeping my head above water but barely."

In January, the Bossier Parish School Board officially added two tax propositions to the May ballot that could improve Welch’s situation.

The first proposition would help give a raise to teachers and professional and support staffers. The district would levy a 22.94-mill tax on residential and commercial property in Bossier Parish.

The second proposition would help improve the school district’s technology. This proposition is for 3.22 mills.

Both propositions would take effect this year and would last 10 years.

So what does that mean for those who own homes, businesses or both in Bossier Parish?

Under the employee salary proposition, if your home value is around $150,000, you’ll pay about $14 more a month.

If you own a business that values from around $100,000 to $200,000, your monthly cost will range from $28 to close to $60 more a month.

For the technology proposition, if your home’s value is around $150,000, you’ll pay around $2 more per month, while a business ranging from $100,000 to $200,000 would pay a monthly cost of $4-8 more.

“The need to fund the salary takes a greater amount so that we can be competitive with other parishes," Bossier schools Superintendent Mitch Downey said.

Employee raises and technology were issues that School District officials addressed at the beginning of the school year, he said.

By adding these two propositions to the May ballot, Downey added, it helps the district find and keep teachers.

“This is the best time for us to move forward and try to attract teachers for next year."

The school district proposed a similar tax in 2012.

At that time, the school district was looking to levy 9.25 mills to help pay for a 5% pay raise for employees. It also wanted to levy 3.6 mills to generate a little more than $3 million to update technology.

Both of those propositions failed, but voters did approve a tax renewal that would generate $210 million for school construction over the next 20 years.

While teachers like Welch would love to finally see a raise, for Martin Grau, these two propositions would hurt his plans to expand his business.

“I’m in the retail business, which is a dying breed anyway, and it’s going to drive that down. You know, drive our ability down to hire new people. It’s just too much. Now the taxes are going to go up dramatically and so it’s going to kill that.”

Not only that, Martin says it would affect hiring as well.

These concerns, as well as others from the business community, are being heard by the Bossier Chamber of Commerce.

“Will we see maybe a stunt in our growth in the business community? It appears so because we’re receiving those phone calls saying that if this passes, I’m going to reconsider moving my business to Bossier Parish." said Lisa Johnson, chamber president.

The chamber put out a letter in April asking the School Board to take the two propositions off the ballot.

They knew in late 2018 that tax propositions were coming from the School Board but didn’t find out the official numbers until January.

Johnson says if both of these propositions pass business owners have expressed their concerns of paying more money in taxes by the end of the year.

“A property tax increase of this magnitude retroactive to January 1, 2019 is an unfunded mandate, meaning an unfunded budget item for the business community. They’re going to have roughly six months to be able to find that money and pay it,” she said.

Now, signs and digital billboards urging people to vote no for both propositions are popping up across the parish.

Billboards popping up across Bossier Parish funded by Building a Better Bossier PAC
Billboards popping up across Bossier Parish funded by Building a Better Bossier PAC (Source: Maranda Whittington)

Building a Better Bossier PAC is footing the bill for the majority of the billboards seen around Bossier Parish, while the Good Government Coalition PAC are paying for most of the digital ads online.

Vice President Rex Moncrief says while others might be upset with the numbers and information they're presenting, they claim it's nothing but facts.

Moncrief, who is also a business owner in Bossier Parish, says these propositions would hit businesses hard. He and others suggested another idea to Bossier Parish Schools that he says they turned down.

“One other possible solution is we do a half cent sales tax increase, put it on the fall ballot,” he said. “There is a cap that the parish can raise in sales taxes and we’re at that cap but we could have legislation introduced and have it pass through the House that would give Bossier the ability to raise their sales tax cap by half a cent.”

According to the Bossier Parish Assessors office if both propositions pass, the school board’s property tax would increase by 40%.

But the average homeowner would see roughly a 22.5% increase while businesses in Bossier City would roughly see a 24% increase.

They say all of this varies because there are different mileage rates throughout the parish.

Despite their opposition, those KSLA spoke with against the two propositions say they support teacher raises, but just not by these means.

“Somehow this is evil business men and poor teachers and we’re all in community together,” said Grau. “We all support each other, we all live here. My kids go to Bossier Parish schools, I went to Bossier Parish schools. That’s not the issue. I think the issue is mismanagement.”

Welch says she also sees the other side of this issue as well.

“I try to be unbiased about it and take myself out of the situation I’m in and look at it from a property owner or a business owner and think 'Would I want to pay this tax if I didn’t feel like it was directly affecting me,” she said. “But I think I would because as a business owner you’re providing teachers with more money to use your business, and you’re providing the community with more funds to fund education.”

While Welch believes many teachers will leave if the community votes down these propositions, for her that option is one she can’t afford to make right now.

“I mean I would just have to continue living like I am,” she said. "So I’ll continue to be the stressed, exhausted person that I am on a daily basis but I’d get through it.”

To view the parish wide millage information for Bossier and other parishes in Louisiana for 2018, click here.

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