Natchitoches tax assessor proposes millage to support LSU AgCenter

Mary Ann Van Osdell, Coreil, Paul D.  |  4/8/2009 9:32:34 PM

News Release Distributed 04/08/09

NATCHITOCHES, La. – Natchitoches Parish Tax Assessor Rick Hargis proposed a three-quarter mill property tax to support the LSU AgCenter at a meeting here on April 7. About 55 people attended, including school board members, police jurors and 4-H volunteers.

Dr. Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for extension, explained the dire consequences on educational services if the proposed budget cuts to the AgCenter are implemented.

Coreil said the proposed state budget reductions mean an additional $13.3 million cut (15.1 percent) for fiscal year 2010 on top of the FY 2009 $3.8 million midyear budget cut (4.4 percent).

A committee of four was formed a couple of months ago to discuss extension office funding in Natchitoches, with the Farm Bureau stepping up to contribute $1,600 to finish some expenses for the fiscal year.

“We’re not doing our children, our youth, justice with the system that we have today,” said Ronnie Owens, committee member and president of the Natchitoches Parish Farm Bureau. “We’ve got a plan. We’re wanting to carry it forward. We’re hoping to get everyone else on board in this parish. What we’re looking for is leaders in our parish.”

Hargis said the parish has gone from five agents to one full-time agent. “We can do better than that.”

Hargis said the tax would amount to $2.50 a year for a $100,000 home with homestead exemption and $12.50 for a $200,000 home. “It’s not outrageous,” he said. “We don’t have to have the Cadillac model; the Chevrolet model would be fine with me.”

The assessor said he would like to call an election for August 2010 to “continue improving, operating, maintaining and equipping the Natchitoches Parish Extension Office.” The date would allow time to run a campaign, Hargis said.

Programs at stake that he cited include character education, livestock shows, parenting and money management classes, and summer and outdoor skills camps.

“The AgCenter does so much, from developing kids to supporting poultry and forestry,” Coreil said. “You get the most bang for your buck from this organization.”

Unlike most institutions of higher learning, the LSU AgCenter does not receive tuition from students, Coreil said. “We’re going to be hit a lot harder than a lot of other institutions.”

People don’t stop learning after they go to high school or college, he said. “You’ve got to learn throughout your life if you’re going to be successful. That’s our job. We love what we do; we don’t look at the clock. We’re working after five o’clock, on Saturdays and Sundays.”

He said that with the proposed cuts, the LSU AgCenter would be at 62 percent less capacity for beef cattle research and extension, 56.3 percent down in staff for row crops and 50 percent down in sugarcane.

“We’re down 20 percent of the personnel we had 10 years ago,” he said. “Three hundred positions have been lost.”

A hiring freeze has been imposed on the AgCenter, but Coreil announced an exemption that will allow a new 4-H agent in Natchitoches. Seventeen 4-H positions and four horticulture agent positions are vacant in the state.

Eleven percent of the LSU AgCenter’s support comes from local government, Coreil said. “Five years ago we were at 3 percent. Our local governments are now stepping forward in supporting the extension offices at a higher level.

“We finally got New Orleans last week to commit to their local support for the first time since 1982. The council has committed to $100,000 per year in support,” Coreil said.

The challenge is that the average for states in the South is 20 percent, Coreil said.

Coreil called the people in the room the AgCenter’s board of directors. “You are the people we work for. We’re going to do our best to keep Natchitoches on the forefront,” he said.

He asked the citizens to assist the AgCenter. “It’s going to require some work on your part. Everywhere we go, we are hearing people say they will do everything they can to change this. Choices will have to be made regarding the kind of AgCenter you want.”

Rep. Rickey Nowlin said he would be fine with a millage because the people get a chance to vote on it. “I’m quite concerned with the cuts in the AgCenter program,” he said.

Mary Ann Van Osdell

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