ST. HELENA PARISH, LA (WAFB) - Since 2015, Sheriff Nathaniel Williams with the St. Helena Parish Sheriff's Office has tried to pass a millage tax, but the sheriff is hoping the third time's the charm. This Saturday, March 24, he's asking voters to approve a tax that will benefit the department and hopefully fix one of their ongoing issues.
One of the biggest problems facing the St. Helena Parish Sheriff's Office right now is keeping deputies on the payroll. The starting pay for brand new deputies is less than $20,000 per year. "We train them, but we can't hold on to them," said Williams. "When they walk in your office and say, 'Sheriff, we love you, but we can't stay,' you have to compromise with them," he said.
Right now, eight deputies work around the clock to cover over 400 square miles of ground. "If something happens, there's a hard run to get back to protect the safety of the parish on the north end or either on the south end," the sheriff said. "They're putting their lives in danger and the people they're meeting on the road."
Sheriff Williams says deputies come to the department for training, but when their pay no longer matches up with their level of experience, they feel forced to leave. "We have deputies that have come here, men and women, and leave because of the pay scales of the department." But the sheriff says there are no hard feelings when deputies leave because when you're paying under the poverty level, "they aren't going to stay here long," he says.
The sheriff says right now, one of the only things keeping new deputies there a full year is a contract.
If the tax passes, people who own homes under $75,000 don't have to pay. Above that, the tax kicks in. For example, if your home is worth $80,000, you'd pay an extra $5 per year. Sheriff Williams says the 10 millage tax will allow him to hire four more deputies, buy new deputy units, increase salaries, and update technology.
The department, according to the sheriff could receive up to 556,000 per year, if the tax passes.
Some people on Facebook questioned if the money would be put to good use, but the sheriff says it will indeed. "You've got to grow," the sheriff said. "In order to grow, you've got to pay for what you grow. We're not a crime-ridden parish, a rural area, but we have our share of crime also, but we need that protection. We need those people on the ground."
Residents of the parish can vote on the property tax Saturday, March 24.