by Elliott Stonecipher
The Caddo Parish Commission will soon and finally set a May 3rd election for voters to decide on a 1.75-mill Debt Service property tax renewal. This particular Commission bucket of cash – there are nineteen (19) such – would thus stay filled to its $23,000,000-plus brim. There is no contention by the Commission that the related capital projects will not be otherwise funded if the renewal fails.
If this proposition seems familiar it’s because Caddo voters rejected it in a vote taken last October, just before Halloween. Also on that ballot, mind-numbingly tricky and with no accompanying treat, was a “term limits” proposal for Caddo Commissioners of … if I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’ … two decades: five terms, four years per. Caddo voters came up with their own treat by voting “no.”
More to the specific point, public documents make it clear just how much taxpayer money the Commission already has and holds.
How Much Cash?
As recounted by various Government Plaza insiders, almost the entire Commission – only Commissioner Mike Thibodeaux voted against the May 3rd vote re-run on the merits – has been pee-o’d since, and have shifted into payback mode. While Caddo taxpayers are the targets, it is they who have certainly flooded the Commission’s coffers with stunning amounts of cash: as of December 31, 2013, the Caddo Commission’s “fund balance reserves” are nowadays unheard of. Nineteen (19) subject accounts hold $160,066,403 in cash. Of that total, $49,932,263 is cash readily available for use at the sole discretion of Commissioners, held in the Riverboat, Oil & Gas and Reserve Trust funds. (Caddo Commission budget here.)
BIG Bucks to Commissioners Who Already Have the Highest Pay in Louisiana
The waste of money associated with the vote do-over begins with the cost of the election. The last one cost $144,739, but throwing that kind of money around is no surprise from elected officials who, by their own admission, are the highest-paid parish legislators in Louisiana. “Highest paid” doesn’t cut it with Commissioners, though – a solid majority are busily giving themselves even more taxpayer money.
For their (very) part-time “public service,” we pay Commissioners an $1,850 per month ($1,950 for the prez) “salary,” plus another just-under $300 per month into each Commissioner’s Caddo Parish Retirement System (CPERS) account.
As of now, any Commissioner must pay the cost of her or his coverage in the parish health care system, but starting January 1, 2016, taxpayers will also foot the bill for 75% of Commissioners’ health care premiums, “if a Commissioner enrolls in the Parish’s health care plan.” (If a Commissioner enrolls? What, the Affordable Care Act is gonna offer a better deal than 75% off?)
Guaranteed “Educational” (Junket) Bucks
On top of all of that, there is a brand-new taxpayer hug and kiss – albeit unknown to 99% of taxpayers, I’m betting: a $15,000 per year, per Commissioner, “Education and Training” slush chunk. So called “E & T” bucks have long been joked about – it’s not funny anymore – as “Entertainment & Travel” (as in vacation). A typical example is an association of some certain category of elected officials that holds its “annual convention” in, oh, let’s say, Las Vegas. The pols wing it over to Happy Sands for a week, and the taxpayers pick up the tab. To do the right thing (wink / wink, nod / nod) by the taxpayers, members attend a few educational (?) sessions, mixed-in with all the play.
The Caddo Commission ramped-up formulation of this howler after the voter rejections last fall, finally approving it month before last, on January 9th. Resolution No. 74 of 2013 (scroll to Pages 641 and 642) passed on the “yes” votes of nine (9) Commissioners: Lindora Baker, Jerald Bowman, David Cox, Ken Epperson, John Escude, Lyndon Johnson, Matthew Linn, Stephanie Lynch and Michael Williams. (The final Resolution thankfully replaced an early draft which included stunning – and one would think unlawful – text that identified some subject associations which are apparently organized in and for purposes of racial exclusivity.)
Left to vote against this doozy were Commissioners Mike Thibodeaux, Jim Smith and Doug Dominick (now a candidate for judge in Caddo’s First Judicial District). The money is a limit per year, and no Commissioner need take a single penny of it. My guess is that these “no” voters are the only ones likely to thus honor taxpayers.
The Resolution makes no mention of any kind of monitoring or auditing of these dollars, a fact we must hope our state Ethics Board, Legislative Auditor, Inspector General and other investigative and tax authorities will annually note.
Caddo Parish Commissioners Paid More for “Part-Time Service” Than Most Constituents Earn
A Commissioner taking the entire E & T total each year, plus her or his salary, retirement contribution and health care (as of January 2016) in the conservative amount of $250 per month, will average $3,650 per month for their part-time “service” … $43,800 a year. For one who takes no E & T bucks, the average will be $2,400 a month, or $28,800 a year.
According to the U. S. Census Bureau, the average household income in Caddo Parish is $40,497 a year, and the average individual yearly income is $24,432. So, our Commissioners will either be paid well over the average income of an individual Caddoan , or several thousand dollars more than the average Caddo household …
… before any consideration of a Commissioners’ pay from their real jobs, if employed.
[To be continued …]
Elliott Stonecipher’s reports and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is requested and appreciated.