St. Mary Parish council members who had last month approved a resolution calling for a bond election for Recreation District 5 in November heard from state Sen. Bret Allain in his role as District 21 senator and vice president of the St. Mary Sugar Cooperative as well as from other business owners.
An item to repeal the resolution approving the bond election had been placed on the council’s regular meeting agenda Wednesday by Councilman David Hanagriff of District 3.
The resolution approved the Nov. 6 election on a $3.125 million bond package dedicated to improvements to the civic center and its continued operation. Also approved was a resolution to refinance the district’s existing debt that district residents are repaying with 7.26 mills in property taxes.
If the new debt is approved at the polls, millages would remain the same, but the term of the debt repayment would be extended from 2025 to 2032, according to Jason Akers of the Foley and Judell bond counseling firm.
Allain first delivered good news from state Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret.
Allain said that because of the availability here and the low price of natural gas the state is primed to attract new manufacturing interests.
According to Moret, Allain said, “We’re looking at in the next five to seven years $70 billion to $100 billion of investment in this state that will be made. There is no better time to attract industry than there is right now.”
He added that there are a lot of possible manufacturing sites in his legislative district which include some in St. Mary but more to the east in Lafourche.
Allain said he has worked with Moret to attract new industry to the area but the secretary currently has no possible sites targeted in western St. Mary Parish.
In Allain’s question as to why not, Moret answered the following in writing:
When industry is making site selection decisions, “One of the most common evaluation factors is the state and local tax burdens associated by different locations under construction. When there is a significant variation in tax burdens between two or more competing locations with otherwise similar features, a location with higher taxes is often eliminated from consideration.”
Allain said the millage rates in west St. Mary, at 138 mills, are in the state’s highest 3 percent and are 40 to 50 percent above the state average.
Areas above 100 mills are at a disadvantage to attract new industry when areas just to the east are lower, he said.
“They are all taking what should come here,” Allain said.
He presented a resolution from the farmer owned St. Mary Sugar Cooperative opposing the renewed recreation millage and added that the co-op paid $450,000 in property taxes last year.
He said west St. Mary businesses agreed to help fund construction of the civic center some 10 years ago when “there was a finite date that it would be paid off and we’d be done with it.”
He added that the recreation district is funded at a much higher rate than any other in the parish.
“This is not in the best interest of St. Mary, he said. “I believe it will be a deterrent to economic development.”
No one from the cooperative “is opposed to recreation, but let’s think this through, look at the details, enough is enough, gentlemen” said Jessie Breaux, the co-op’s secretary/treasurer.
The council also heard from Edgar Dugas III, owner of the Dugas Oil family businesses.
He noted that his residential property taxes in western St. Mary are 128 mills as compared to his sister’s similar residence in Lafayette Parish at 86 mills. He added that the Dugas company paid more than $132,000 in property taxes last year.
Councilman Lionel Metz who represents western St. Mary on the council asked if recreation taxes are hindering new industry what was the excuse before the civic center tax was levied some 10 years ago. He added that the school board is responsible for the largest portion of property taxes.
He added that the center is vital for the area that is predominately made up of low-income residents.
“We need to do something for the kids… Do we want to pay for it now, or pay for it when they go to jail,” he said.
Hanagriff said that the district’s millage rates are “too disproportionate.” He also disputed the argument made by proponents of the proposition that the people should have the final say.
“We need to make sure that any tax election is justified,” he said. “It is important to send a message that St. Mary Parish is open for business, we want businesses to come.
“I think the business owners have done their part,” he said. “These young people coming up don’t need recreation they need jobs.”
Hanagriff then made a motion to repeal the resolution and received a second from Councilman Glen Hidalgo, District 4.
Akers said another option to extending the term of the bond would be possible by refinancing existing debt. He noted that other available options would keep the proposition off the November ballot.
Hanagriff’s motion passed on a 6-4 vote with councilmen Metz, Steve Bierhorst, Albert Foulcard and Charles Middleton opposed.
Voting in favor were Hanagriff, Hidalgo, Logan Fromenthal, Tim Tregle, Sterling Fryou and Kevin Voisin. Ken Singleton was absent.
Hanagriff said the council would get together with Akers to explore other options in the near future.