Officials: Road tax needed

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 17, 2005

VIDALIA, La. &045; Take a short drive down Fisherman Drive and you might get some idea of the problem.

It’s not that the road is undriveable &045; far from it &045; but the patches in the blacktop surface take up about as much space as the original surface. There are more than 30 years worth of potholes in the road.

Fisherman Drive, which runs along Lake Concordia just outside of Ferriday, is only one of about 60 Concordia Parish roads most in need of work, Concordia Parish police jurors say.

Email newsletter signup

That’s the reason behind the police jury’s proposition to institute a road tax, a move that must first be approved by the voters in the parish in an October 15 election.

&uot;We’re about the only parish in the state that doesn’t have a road tax,&uot; Police Jury President Melvin Ferrington said.

The tax would add 1.5 cents of sales tax to items bought in Concordia Parish except within the towns of Vidalia and Ferriday, bringing the total sales tax in the parish up to 8.75 cents per dollar. Police jury secretary Russell Wagoner said that should pull in about $900,000 in funds annually. The new tax would put the total amount of sales tax on items bought in the parish at 8.75 cents, similar to several surrounding parishes and the sales tax in Ferriday and Vidalia.

Two previous proposals for road taxes, one in the 1980s and one in 1998, were both defeated in elections by parish voters.

The roads

The parish has 150.1 miles of gravel roads and 75.31 miles of blacktop roads it owns and maintains. Virtually all the blacktop roads were built in the 1960s and ’70s with money received from the federal government.

The blacktop roads have received only basic maintenance &045; primarily filling potholes &045; since they were first constructed decades ago.

&uot;When you continue to fill potholes you’re going to keep getting potholes,&uot; Ferrington said. &uot;That’s not a long-term solution to building the infrastructure of the parish.&uot;

That maintenance work &045; filling potholes and grading gravel roads &045; uses up the entire $150,000 budget Concordia has for road maintenance. Much of that money comes from leftover funds off of the one cent sales tax, designated primarily for solid waste services, the parish has in place currently.

Police jurors were asked to identify the roads in each of their districts most in need of work. The 58 roads they submitted, both gravel and blacktop, are being evaluated and prioritized based on their condition and the amount of use they receive.

Engineers from Hammett and Associates are working to prioritize the roads and should have a list ready for the police jury within the next two weeks, Ferrington said. That list will determine the parish’s plan for roadwork, which should be in place before public hearings in the next few weeks.

Police juror Cathy Darden said it is more expensive to do the necessary roadwork than most people think.

&uot;People don’t realize how much money it takes, with the cost of fuel and salaries and all, to do work on roads,&uot; Darden said. &uot;The number I’ve heard is $200,000 a mile for blacktop to do it right.&uot;

Concordia Parish’s road tax, if approved, would go into effect Jan. 1, 2006, with work on roads commencing almost immediately thereafter, Ferrington said. The police jury is working with the bond commission to get funding quickly through a bond offering if the tax is approved by voters.

The tax

Concordia Parish residents not living in Vidalia or Ferriday pay 7.25 cents of sales tax on items they buy in the parish.

The Concordia Police Jury’s survey of eight parishes showed that seven of them have dedicated road taxes ranging from .25 cents to three cents.

&uot;This would put us right in the middle of those parishes,&uot; Wagoner said.

Catahoula Parish has a two cent sales tax for its police jury, some of which is spent on roads. Caldwell Parish has a dedicated one cent road tax. In LaSalle Parish, which has a sales tax of just six cents, no sales tax money goes to the police jury.

Tensas, a parish with about 6,000 citizens and significantly fewer miles of parish roads than Concordia, has a .75 cent sales tax for roads that generated about $310,000 last year, Darden said. Tensas spent about $600,000 last year on maintenance, salaries and equipment for road repairs.

Ferriday and Vidalia both have total sales tax of 8.75 cents &045; the same amount the parish would have if the road tax goes into effect &045; because of town taxes.

Some of the biggest sources of sales tax outside of Ferriday and Vidalia are farm equipment distributors John Deere, near Ferriday, and Scott Tractor, Randy Temple of the Vidalia sales tax office said. Items like materials bought for road and house construction, furniture and automobiles delivered to residents of the parish outside of Vidalia and Ferriday also accounted for a large portion of the approximately $67 million in sales tax collected last year.

Use taxes, as when oil companies purchase pumping units for wells in the parish, also account for a large amount of sales tax income.