Residents of Jefferson Parish voted Saturday to approve a $7 million property tax increase that will generate an additional $28 million for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Joe Lopinto had touted the tax hike as a way to bring in enough new money to cover the costs of employee wage increases. Lopinto said he plans to give employees a 20% pay raise.
Voters approved the tax at 74% with a 10% turnout, according to comprehensive but unofficial results from the Louisiana secretary of state’s website.
Lopinto said the money was needed to keep pace with the salaries of some nearby law enforcement agencies. Higher salaries are crucial, he said, in attracting new employees and retaining experienced department employees who might be drawn to other departments or private sector jobs.
The starting salary for a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Deputy is $38,745 per year. A Gretna Police Department officer starts at $42,854. A New Orleans Police Department recruit starts at $40,391 and pay rises to $56,566 after one year. The starting salary for a Louisiana State Police trooper is $49,448.
Campaigning for the property tax increase, Lopinto said the starting salary for deputies in Jefferson Parish would increase to about $45,000 a year. Remuneration for correctional officers would increase from $35,500 to $39,000 and that of communications employees would increase from $32,000 to $36,000.
The sheriff’s office’s current property tax of $8.28 million generates about $32 million annually, or about a quarter of the department’s $126 million budget for fiscal year 2020-21.
The 7 additional mills will add approximately $87.50 per year to the tax bill of a home valued at $200,000.
The last tax increase for the sheriff’s office was a quarter-cent sales tax in 1993.
“Police are different 30 years later,” Lopinto said in a recent interview. “The staff I have doing the computer work, the DNA, costs money. That didn’t exist 30 years ago.”
The sheriff’s office has about 200 vacancies, Lopinto said.
The tax increase recently gained support from the Bureau of Governmental Research, a New Orleans-based research group. The group agreed that better wages would help the sheriff’s office retain quality employees by providing “a steady stream of revenue to address growing retention and hiring issues that could pose a risk to public safety.”
In its endorsement, BGR noted that the increases are expected to cost around $20 million a year. But Lopinto said if he was able to fill all 200 vacancies, the raises would cost about $33 million a year.
Lopinto toured civic associations and parish business groups to lobby for the tax increase. Ahead of Saturday’s referendum, he and other parish officials said they had heard of no widespread or organized opposition to the tax.
“I’m competing in two different places: with other law enforcement and the private sector,” Lopinto said during the campaign. “Everyone is Hiring”