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.