Juvenile Detention Tax funds to Remodel/Construct Tutoring Center

Former District 10 Parish Councilman Bryan Melancon

On October 17, 2013, by a 8-1 vote, Ascension’s Parish Council adopted an ordinance creating a one-mill property tax that did not require public approval at the ballot box.  Former District 10 Councilman Bryan Melancon was the lone dissenting vote for the ordinance:

“To authorize a one (1) mill property tax to fund Participation Agreement(s) for the care and maintenance of juveniles awaiting prosecution for crimes committed in Ascension Parish, and subsequently to acquire, construct, equip, maintain, and operate a juvenile detention facility in Ascension Parish.”  (20 years in duration, the tax is set to expire on December 31, 2032).

NOTE:  The ordinance is authorized by Louisiana Revised Statute Louisiana Revised Statute 15:1099.5 (see below).

The Official Meeting Minutes from October 17, 2013 include:

A motion to approve the ordinance was made by Councilman Oliver Joseph and seconded by Councilwoman Teri Casso. Councilman Melancon stated that he would not vote to approve a tax that citizens do not have the opportunity to vote on. He objected to the approval.

He got that one right.  Neither can we envision Councilman Melancon ever threatening to punish his constituents inside the City of Gonzales like his successor did…

Cagnolatti (with Lawler/Orgeron/Casso) threatens to halt drainage inside Gonzales/Sorrento

But, we digress.

Fast forward nine years and Ascension Parish Government is sitting on a pile of money generated by the tax, without clear objects upon which to spend it.  So the Council adopted a budget amendment on May 19 (No. 3 if you’re counting) to the 2022 Operating and Capital Budgets.  The changes included:

OPERATING BUDGET:

  • Juvenile Justice Program Fund – (Increase in St. Bernard Sheriff’s contract to $250/bed/day; Funding for the remodeling and construction of tutoring center)
    Expenditures & Other Financing Uses: Probation and Juvenile Court $ 97,500; and Transfer Out – Juvenile Justice Construction Fund $ 250,000

CAPITAL BUDGET:

  • Juvenile Justice Construction Fund – (Remodeling and construction of tutoring center)
    Revenues and Other Financing Sources: Transfer In – Juvenile Justice Program Fund $ 250,000; Expenditures and Other Financing Sources-Contract Payments – Capital $ 250,000

How does that fit within the parameters of the Council-adopted one-mill tax dedicated to  “care and maintenance of juveniles awaiting prosecution for crimes committed in Ascension Parish?”

A decade’s’ worth of collections (at present one-mill collected parish-wide generates an estimated $1,558,000) and the Juvenile Justice Program Fund balance is projected to exceed $8.6 million by the end of 2022.  Ascension Parish’s current budget is the first to include the fund (kudos to the Cointment Administration for that…

though it seems unlikely that a detention center will be constructed anytime soon).

Impossible to track until now, all revenues had gone into Ascension Parish Government’s General Fund even though the ordinance “ORDAINED…all surplus funds be escrowed for the sole purpose to acquire, construct, equip, maintain, and operate a juvenile detention facility in Ascension Parish.”

Nowhere does the ordinance enacting the one-mill tax mention “Funding for the remodeling and construction of tutoring center.”  Which is not to argue against the initiative’s merits, only its legality.

Halfway into the tax’s 20-year duration, the governing authority and parish executive has $8.6 million to spend.  Another decade of collections to go and it seems reasonable to expect that number to double.

When Ascension breaks ground on its very own juvenile detention center…who knows.


UPDATE:  Authored by Representative Ken Brass, House Bill 460 of the 2022 Regular Legislative Session (which became Act 627 when Governor John Bel Edwards signed it into law) explicitly authorized funding the Early Childhood Development Center from the Juvenile Justice Program Fund.  The Bill/Act added new verbiage to Louisiana Revised Statute 15:1099.5, the statute enabling political subdivisions’ governing authorities to impose taxes without voter approval in certain instances.  Pursuant to paragraph C.(1)(a) such governing authorities can, by two-thirds vote, levy a one-mill property tax for up to 20 years…

“…for the purposes of acquiring, constructing, equipping, operating, maintaining, and managing a youth center and providing rehabilitative programs within a structured environment for children who enter the juvenile justice system or who are children in need of care or supervision, for preventative programs, or for making payments pursuant to a lease or lease purchase contract pursuant to this Subpart by a two-thirds vote of total membership of the governing authority, without voter approval, but only after a public hearing is held.

Text in red was added by HB 460.  Ascension’s Council 

The Brass bill also added a new paragraph to define “preventative programs:

For purposes of this Paragraph, preventative programs include early childhood care and educational programming and infrastructure, and programs that address adverse childhood experiences as well as any related services and support for parents with the goal of ensuring children do not enter the juvenile justice system in the future.

It enables funding the Early Childhood Development Center from the Juvenile Justice Fund.  Though we do argue that the Ascension Parish Ordinance imposing the one-mill property tax does not allow it.

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