The Mayor and Council met for their regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, July 12, at 6:30. Following a public hearing, the Council voted to roll forward the property tax millage rate from 3.17 to 5.64 mills. For an average $200,000 home in the city, this will cost the taxpayer about $30 more annually, and net the city about $300,000 per year. Whenever the millage rate was adopted decades ago, the parameters were set, with 5.64 mills as the maximum. And although the Council could have chosen to roll the rate forward each year, this marks the first increase in about 20 years.
Councilman Ben Cavin said it is a cost of living adjustment. “The tax millage rate was set in the ‘70s or ‘80s,” he said. “Back then, the average household income was $25,000. Today, it’s $50-$60,000. The expenses we incur, and the services the citizens expect us to provide, have grown exponentially, and we have not increased our millage. We have to pay our bills,” he said.
Councilwoman Laura O’Brien agreed. “We are a sales tax-driven city, and the first thing you learn in business is that it should be a threading circus. You should not put all your eggs in one basket.” Councilman Tommy Womack stressed that of the 3.17 mills allotted to Zachary, very little of that money goes to the city. The millage goes to the schools, the sheriffs, library, mosquito abatement and more. “We pay East Baton Rouge more than the 3.17 we collect here. I don’t think t his is an unfair tax— the services you are provided for what you pay in taxes. We have a first rate fire department, police department, drainage. We have cut back our budgets. There is nowhere else for us to trim,” he said.
Both Fire Chief Danny Kimble and Police Chief David McDavid testified as to their respective departments’ needs. “We had two cars break down today,” Chief McDavid said. “My vehicle is at 111,000 miles. Our cars are falling apart,” he said, noting that the officers’ jobs are 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and their cars are used constantly and require maintenance. “Right now, we’re behind. We’ve done all the cutting we can do,” he said. And now, there are more mandates in police training and more liability issues. “Keeping our training up to date costs a lot of money. We just can’t cut anymore.” Chief Kimble echoed that sentiment, saying the city is about due for another ladder truck if they are to continue operating under rating guidelines. When the firefighters respond to an incident, he said, they send two men on a truck. “You’ve got more people on a crew coming to cut your grass than you do coming to put a fire out!” he said.