On Saturday, May 2, voters in the Watson area will have the opportunity to vote on two very important property tax proposals. One is the renewal of a 15 mill tax to support Recreation District and the Live Oak Ballpark. The other is the renewal of a 7 mil parish wide tax for the School Board for repairs and maintenance to school facilities. I would urge all voters to vote “YES” on each of these important renewals.
It is important to note that both of these proposals are not ‘new taxes’. They are renewals of taxes that the people of Livingston Parish and the Watson area have supported for years, supported where it counts, with their hard earned dollars. The School Board tax has been around since 1955. The Recreation District tax was first implemented over 35 years ago. And ever since they were first approved, both taxes have brought great returns to our schools, our children and our community in general.
The current Live Oak Sports Complex began with a single ball field in the early 70’s and has today grown a large, modern and updated facility that provides recreation and team sports opportunities for everyone in the Watson community. The complex recently underwent a multi-million dollar upgrade and expansion. Far from just a baseball field, the complex includes numerous lighted baseball and softball fields with dugouts, a lighted running/walking track, soccer fields, a youth football field, wall ball courts, renovated and air conditioned bathrooms, family picnic areas, two playgrounds and over 800 paved or improved parking spaces.
It has been a part of our community for years. If you are my age or so, it has been a big part of your life. People my age played ball there when we were kids, went on to see our own children play there and now some of them are seeing their grandchildren participate in sports programs in the same park. It has been home to the Live Oak High Baseball and Softball teams for many years. Each year, hundreds of children, from 5 years old to high school age, participate in team sports offered there, which includes everything from t-ball, baseball, softball, soccer, youth football and cheerleading. That seems to be quite a lot for a few dollars a month.
The 15 mil tax currently generates about $845,000 per year. The important thing to remember is that this amount makes up over 75% of the complex’s annual operating budget. Without it, it’s not just a matter of cutting back. It means the park would have to close down completely. The Rec Board would not be able to maintain its facilities or operate the youth sports programs currently in place. Both the LOHS baseball and softball teams would have to scramble to find a new home field. At a time when we hear about how bad the obesity problem is and how kids tend to just sit at home and play video games, it might be a good idea to continue to support programs that get them out of the recliner and on the field.
The school board tax is just as important. There is no denying that the outstanding quality of schools in this parish has been the driving force in driving our local economy for the past 20 years or so. Families have relocated to Livingston Parish for the quality of our public schools. Like rain follows thunder, new retail stores, restaurants, banks and other businesses have come as well, following the shifting population trends. This has lead to more opportunities, increased revenues and jobs. And it all goes back to the fact that voters in Livingston Parish have supported our schools for over 60 years. While other parishes around us are dealing with crumbling facilities, failing schools and a general lack of confidence in public education, Livingston Parish schools continue to grow and set the bar.
New schools continue to spring up across the parish. The public school system in Livingston Parish currently educates over 26,000 students at 45 campuses across the parish. These facilities are maintained by the 7 mil tax that has been around for over 60 years. And, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The tax generates over $3 million dollars per year, which works out to about 34 cents per day for each student. Livingston Parish schools, overall, have one of the lowest per pupil expenditures in the state. Despite that fact, they have continued to do more with less and have been successful in maintaining one of the top 10 systems in the State. I don’t think it is asking too much to continue to support those efforts.
Now, I know nobody likes paying taxes. I am not fond of them myself. Unfortunately, whether right or wrong, there is a big anti-tax sentiment going around. But there are a few important thing to point out about these two proposals. First, neither of these proposals are new taxes. They are renewals, which will not increase anybody’s property taxes. Both the Rec Board and the School Board are simply asking voters to renew and continue two longstanding taxes that are already on the books. Second, if you are fed up with the Three Stooges drama that is the Parish Council and other public agencies, I hear you. In fact, I am with you. But neither of these taxes has anything to do with the Council. The funds generated here are dedicated to their respective agencies. They are not, and never will be, in the control of the Council or part of the Parish general fund. They support programs that actually work and give value to the voters and taxpayer of Livingston Parish.
Most importantly, both of these taxes support programs that actually work. They have both done a good job of doing more with less and being good stewards of the public’s money. They deserve our support.
Finally, these taxes do not exist in a vacuum. They both go to support and maintain facilities and programs that you and I have both paid for over the years. To spend millions of tax dollars on programs and facilities over the years and not vote the money to maintain them is both ignorant and short sided. If you think you want to vote against these proposals because you are fed up with taxes, you are uninformed and are willing, as my Momma used to say, to cut off your nose to spite your face.
That is why Watson voters should vote YES on May 2.