ARPEC Chair responds to Fire Chief LeBlanc's letter
The recent article in your paper of public record addressing volunteer firefighting issues had several pieces of misinformation. Currently, fire service in Fire District #1 is funded with part of a half-cent sales tax.
At least three times the statement was made that current service is “all volunteer.” This is not true! Taxpayers paid $604,000 in 2018 for personnel, hardly a “free” service as the writer claims. This figure includes salary, FICA tax, retirement, health insurance, and savings accounts and workers compensation. At the beginning of 2018 Fire District #1 had $7,230,598.86 in their fund and ended the year with a balance of $3,660,098.86. These figures can be verified in the budget for Ascension under the Finance Department at ascensionparish.net.
Almost six years ago Fire District #1 placed a proposition on the ballot in a special election proposing a 17 percent increase in property taxes according to records from the Assessor. This increase included a 15-mill property tax and a parcel fee of $32 for each lot and $100 for commercial lots regardless of property value or homestead exemption. The proposed tax increase was to pay for thirty-nine paid positions with average salaries of $55,000 a year plus benefits and renovation of six stations. This tax was in addition to the dollars already collected from the half-cent sales tax. The Ascension Republican Parish Executive Committee (ARPEC) opposed this tax increase. Two-thirds of voters who voted in this special election rejected the property tax increase as well.
Ascension residents are grateful for the paid personnel and volunteers who currently provide fire services in Fire District #1, but were unwilling six years ago to pay additional taxes for these services. I believe, if presented today with the same proposition, the outcome would be the same.