The City of Sulphur is asking voters to renew, on the April 6 ballot, a 10-year, 5 mill property tax for streets. The tax, which was initially voted-in back in the late 1950s, provides funding for such projects as graveling, shelling and hard-surfacing streets; installing culverts and drains; and improving city streets in general. Basically, it covers the operation and maintenance expenses of the Public Works' street division.
"If it is associated with the street and separate from the utility, then it is covered under streets. It is anything that deals with the non-utility portion of the street infrastructure," said John Bruce, City of Sulphur Public Works director.
That would also include a payroll of $443,000 for the 36 employees assigned to the street division, which presently has a total operating budget of $3.8 million. The current collection of the tax at 4.53 mills brings in $532,022 to the department. The April 6 proposition asks for 5 mills, which equals to $587,221. However, finance director Kevin Alley expects the actual rate to be rolled back from 5 mills, perhaps even lower than the current 4.53 mills. The final rate will be set by the Calcasieu Assessor's Office.
The street tax is an important one as it represents about 15 percent of the division's total budget. If the levy isn't renewed, then acquisitions may be the first place to look at cutting.
"It could be an across-the-board cut. However, this past fiscal year in acquisions - major acquisitions to replace aging equipment - we [had to spend] over $250,000," said Bruce, adding that the department envisions needing to spend about same amount in the upcoming fiscal year.
"If we lose this kind of revenue stream, [then acquisions] would be one of the first places to look to defer [spending]. It just aggravates an existing problem even more because we wouldn't be coming in for new equipment if the old stuff was as reliable as we need it to be," he continued, "That cut would then translate into higher operational costs through the efforts of maintaining the old fleet, which could then also affect response times for needed services."
As with other departments dealing with a city's infrastructure, the street division is waging battle with an aging system and increasing costs.
"Each of us take pride in our divisions. The problems we have are real problems, but they are not unique to this city. However, we treat them that way in trying to get them solved and resolved," said Bruce.
There are also a number of multi-million dollar projects planned for the area which will impact the infrastructures of local municipalities. However, City of Sulphur officials have had the future in mind long before the projects were announced. "The city has been looking ahead for several years on infrastructure needs versus what we have right now. Traffic-wise, the city, a year or so ago, authorized a review of our major corridors and major intersections for capacity analysis and recommended improvements. We have that report and we use it to recommend improvements to the City Council. The signalization project that has been going on for a few years is a primary example of that," said Bruce. "The city also has an annual pavement maintenance program that while it doesn't add capacity, it does improve the experience for the traveling public."
Page 2 of 2 - If passed, the 10-year renewal would have a start date of 2015.
Early voting for items on the April 6 ballot will begin Saturday, March 23. Residents can cast their vote at one of three locations in Calcasieu Parish: the West Calcasieu Business Center on Huntington St. in Sulphur; the Parish Courthouse, second floor, in Lake Charles; and the Moss Bluff Library in Moss Bluff.
On the web: http://www.sulphur.org; http://www.calclerkofcourt.com