Abbeville: Half-cent sales tax on May 4 ballot
Polls in Abbeville will be open on May 4.
Voters within the City of Abbeville will have the opportunity to make one decision on that day, whether to pass a half-cent sales tax that would fund raises for all city employees.
During a special meeting Thursday evening, the Abbeville City Council voted unanimously to call a special election that will be held on Saturday, May 4. The cost of the special election will be $9,000. If passed, the tax would not go into effect until Oct. 1, 2019.
The proposed half-cent sales tax would generate an estimated $1.4 million annually. That would cover the $1.1 million it would take to provide raises to members of the Abbeville Police Department, Abbeville Fire Department and municipal employees.
“The half-cent sales tax was determined to be the appropriate amount,” City Attorney Ike Funderburk explained during Thursday’s presentation, “to generate the funds to create a pool that would sustain an across-the-board raise for the police and fire departments, and an hourly raise for the municipal employees.”
Councilman Francis Touchet Jr., who chairs the city’s finance committee, said that while the decision to put the tax on the ballot was not easy, it was the decision that had to be made in an effort to create competitive pay to eliminate a “revolving door” of employees.
“I’m a conservative and I’m having to dig down and ask if we have done everything we can do with the funds we have?,” Touchet said. “The answer to that question is, yes.
“We have issues with keeping policeman, fireman and utility lineman, who help keep the lights on.”
Touchet said there are other avenues to raise funds, none of which he would want to go down.
“We had three options to consider,” Touchet said. “1. Increase utilities(for only people that are living in the city). 2. Tax all properties(for only the owners of properties in the city) 3. Sales tax-paid by all people who shop in the city.
“The only one I can think is fair is #3.”
Some in attendance Thursday disagreed. Thomas Thompson, president of the Vermilion Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, said, as of now, the board is against the proposed sales tax that, if passed, would put Abbeville at 10.45 percent, a number two percent higher than Lafayette.
“We are going to increase sales tax in a city that may not be able to sustain that burden,” Thompson said. “If I am going to buy a refrigerator, why would I not go to Lafayette if the sales tax is higher here?
“We are going to take a stance against the sales tax.”
Thompson, who said he feels police do deserve raises, did say that minds are open to be changed. He offered an open invitation to anyone from the city to attend the chamber’s next board meeting in April.
“You may win over the business community,” Thompson said, “but at this stage, we can’t stand in agreement.”
Fred Hoyt, an Abbeville business owner and former state senator, previously voiced his concerns to the council about the potential tax burden placed on local businesses. He said Thursday that he would like to see the city look closer at things that could be adjusted in the budget. Hoyt focused on the fire department’s annual operating budget of $3.2 million for its four stations and 39 full-time employees. Hoyt compared that to Morgan City, which has a similar population to Abbeville’s 12,257, the same number of stations and 34 employees, but has a budget of $2.3 million.
“That is about a $1 million difference,” Hoyt said. “I am all for raises, but we have to be smart about the way we allocate the dollars that the city has.”
Abbeville Fire Chief Jude Mire pointed out that the Morgan City Fire Department does not automatically respond to calls outside of the city limits. Mire said that the Abbeville Fire Department responds to calls not only in Abbeville, but the entire 3rd Ward, which has more than 18,000 people.
As for looking for ways to cut items in any of the city’s budget, Councilman Francis Plaisance said that has been studied in the long process to get to this point.
“Every single line item has been looked at,” Plaisance said. “There is no money (for raises).
Touchet said between now and May 4, he hopes citizens make themselves aware of the details of this proposal and that he will gladly talk to anyone who has questions.
“I’m asking people to get educated on the facts,” Touchet said.