Residents of Livingston Parish rejected a half-cent sales tax proposal that Sheriff Jason Ard said would’ve placed a school resource officer (SRO) on every public school campus in the parish.

A total of 22,992 voters — or 56 percent of a possible 40,884 — opted against the proposed sales tax from the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office (LPSO), with all 79 precincts reporting Tuesday, Nov. 6.

It wasn’t the desired outcome for Ard, who in the weeks leading up to the vote took to social media and visited with local churches, schools and community groups alongside Livingston Parish Public Schools Superintendent Rick Wentzel to drum up support for the proposed tax.

Ultimately, voters went in a different direction: Only 10 of the parish’s 79 precincts (12 percent) voted in favor of the proposal.

In a statement released through LPSO spokeswoman Lori Steele, Ard said he has “no further plans of another proposal,” adding that “I work for the people. The people have spoken.”

“I’ve said from the very beginning, this is the people’s choice,” Ard said in the statement. “As you can see, it was not 100 [percent], either way. [Forty-four percent] wanted this. [Fifty-six percent] did not.

“This is what the democratic process is all about,” he said later in the statement. “It is an honor to serve and protect the people of Livingston Parish.”

The Sheriff’s Office’s tax proposal came about after a string of school shootings — most notably the Feb. 14 massacre that claimed 17 lives at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. — heightened the urgency for a greater law enforcement presence on school campuses, Ard and Wentzel told The News in an interview before the election.

The proposal, written by the parish’s law enforcement district, would’ve authorized collection of the tax for an estimated $9.8 million for the entire year, beginning April 1, 2019, in perpetuity, “upon sale, use, lease, rental consumption of tangible property and upon the sale of services within the district.”

It would’ve also guaranteed that proceeds of the tax would’ve been used exclusively “for the purpose of providing additional funding for the operations of the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office, including, but not limited to, stationing Sheriff deputies in public schools throughout” the parish “in order to provide for the safety and security of the students and faculty therein.”

Ten SROs currently patrol the parish’s 46 public school campuses — 45 schools and the central office — and roughly 26,000 students. In an interview with The News, Ard said he planned to hire between 50 and 55 SROs if voters approved the proposal.

In the end, they didn’t.

Many critics of the tax felt the ballot language left open the possibility of the Sheriff’s Office using revenue generated by the tax for other priorities, pointing to the “in perpetuity” and “not limited to” stipulations, according to several calls to “Call and Comment” and letters to The News.

In his statement, Ard said he “never tried to hide anything.”

“I put this proposal on the biggest ballot after being asked by Livingston Parish school leaders to help our children,” Ard said in the statement. “It doesn’t matter what is proposed, you will always have people that are for and are against.”

With no plans for another proposal, Ard said in his statement that he’ll “continue to work with our school system and do the best we can with what we have.”

“The safety of our children and our citizens will continue to consume my life every day,” Ard said.

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(5) comments

CajunJedi

Now that this huge overreach has failed by are rather large margin, our Sheriff seems to be distancing himself from the entire debacle. It was YOUR tax Sheriff and it will play heavily in our decision making process come re-election time.

ralftheeskimobaby

So you are bashing sheriff Ard for trying to make our schools safer? I bet the reason it didn't pass was because more sheriffs deputies at the schools means less drugs can be sold. Sheriff Ard is a good man. He has my vote

CajunJedi

Your comment is filled with irrational speculation and disregard for the facts! If you honestly believe the Sheriff’s only motive was to make schools “safer” then you didn’t actually know anything about the proposed tax and the massive excess revenue it was going to generate above the true cost to put an sro in each school.

Imhotep

We are taxes enough. Citizens of LP can`t support higher taxes we pay some of the highest taxes in the nation. Politicians need to work with what they have when they are elected. Don`t get elected (get the job) and then start raising taxes. Enough!

ACCORD

Now that the unnecessary perpetual sales tax has failed, its time for the school board to step up to the plate and take immediate action to protect our children in the schools. The Livingston Parish school board could use some of the millions in their salary fund (the school board has around 3500 employees and probably carries an average vacancy of at least 50 year round thereby producing a surplus in their salary funds) and quickly set up a school resource officer overtime program like the East Baton Rouge parish school board. Quick math 50 officers at 10 hours/day = 500 hours/day x 5day/week = 2500 hours a week x 4 weeks a month = 10,000 hours a month x 9 months/year = 90,000 hours a school year maximum x $30/hr = $2,700,000 total costs. The absolute maximum paid out would be $2,700,000 a year. EBR, using off duty police officers, pays $30/hr. The off duty officers are trained, armed and equipped. There are around 300 deputies and dozens of city officers in this parish, many of whom would appreciate the chance to make some money on their days off. All of the money doesn’t have to be available in the beginning to start this program. The school board would have 9 months to accumulate this money. Hopefully the school board is sincere about protecting our children in the schools and will do what is necessary to protect our children.

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