Letter to the Editor: Jay Sharplin, Sharpco Hotels Group

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Let’s get the facts straight…The rest of the story…

Upon reading Natchitoches Times article, “Sales tax raises controversy; Let’s get the facts straight”, and viewing the June 20, 2019 Natchitoches Parish Journal, “Magnolia Minute”, I felt it necessary to inform the residents and visitors to Natchitoches why myself and every other hotel operator at Interstate 49 cannot support Ordinance No. 23; that will levy a 1% sales tax within Economic Development District C.

First, what is an “economic development district?” Economic development districts aka TIF districts (can be setup in multiple ways depending on municipality.)  In the case of the City of Natchitoches, Economic Development District C was redrawn with no residents in it to prevent citizens the ability to vote for issues in that district. Thus, the power to levy the new tax is in the hands of our five-person city council.  Currently, there is a 2% TIF Tax being collected exclusively from all hotels in Economic Development District C (I-49) and Economic Development District A (Historic Downtown Area).  Economic Development District B is located at the Waterwell Road Exit on I-49.  Please note, the TIF Tax collected in District C (I-49) can be used for projects in District A & B, and vice versa.  It is speculated that most of the District C TIF tax money collected has subsidized District A with the occasional bone being thrown out to the I-49 District to keep us quiet.   The City of Natchitoches has been collecting this TIF tax since 2011, and where this money is going, I can only assume.   
Another question: Why is the proposed tax only being levied against the businesses in Economic Development District C(I-49), and not Economic Development District A (Downtown Front Street), when both would benefit from any additional tourism.   I can only speculate, but my guess is:  1) Different rules are set for certain areas of the city based on which areas wield the most political power (the haves and have nots); and/or 2. This strategy is to divide and conquer.  In other words, there will be little resistance from the other districts to the current proposed tax on I-49 businesses in District C, because the tax wouldn’t affect the other districts.  If this passes, District A and all the downtown businesses will likely be next for added taxes.  By dividing support and resistance, it is much more likely the both taxes would pass.
 
 
Citing Natchitoches Times June 14 2019, “Mayor Issues letter concerning sales tax” Mayor Posey is quoted, “it should be noted; revenue will primarily come from people passing through the area.” Cavalier words…this simply does not reflect reality. A majority of the fine people that stay in the hotels all over Natchitoches WORK here.   International Paper, Alliance Compressor, Pilgrim’s Pride, Weyerhaeuser, and numerous oil and gas crews that employ a large amount of folks in our community would be displeased to know the money they spend in Natchitoches is so casually taken for granted by our local government.    

 

This morning when viewing Magnolia Minute: MAYOR LEE POSEY – PROPOSED 1% SALES AND USE TAX FOR DISTRICT C. One thing stood out, Mayor Posey was relatively accurate in his statements that District C was created, and hotel owners let him know tournaments are an economic driver for tourism here. He then approached the hotels in advance asking for a tax increase, and discussions included proceeds to go to NSU. Additionally, the Mayor advised hotel operators the park project was running over the original budget and all meetings ended cordially.

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But, what Mayor Posey didn’t say is what should concern the residents and visitors coming to Natchitoches: The Economic Development District C hotel operators met with the Mayor on three separate occasions: 2017 at Hampton Inn, 2018 in the Mayor’s office and 2019 at the Natchitoches Conference Hall.  Meetings in 2017 and 2018 were memorialized in letters emailed to the Mayor’s office to be part of the public record. (see attached)

What you find in the memorialized email to the Mayor is the hotel owners needed assurances of fairness, in relation to tax collection for all hotel operators. I-49 Hotel owners also wanted to know the costs and revenue to operate the park. We are still waiting for those answers. Operators also inquired on where the TIF collections were used and requested some say in future spending.  Once again, no answers. However, the one deal killer that has not changed since the initial meeting with Mayor Posey in 2017, is the lack of desire and effort by the City of Natchitoches to collect TIF and City Taxes (now officially TIF and City Tax arrearages) from the Chateau St. Denis.  For the City of Natchitoches to ask for a new tax when there is outstanding tax money that is owed and collectible is unfathomable, and frankly, unfair to the other law-abiding, taxpaying businesses and citizens of Natchitoches.  The Attorney General of Louisiana gave an opinion about this situation stating the owed back tax must be collected if feasible.   Paraphrasing Mayor Posey from the 2019 hotel operators meeting, he said he had no control over Jerry McWherter (Administrator of the Natchitoches Parish Tax Commission.)    Well, from my understanding, Mayor Posey is a commissioner on the Natchitoches Parish Tax Commission, which has authority over the tax commissioner.  So, yes, he can do something.  He could vote to remove the Tax Administrator if he refused to follow direction of commissioners.  The question is, why doesn’t he? A few months back, I brought this point up to the Mayor in a conversation, and, again paraphrasing, the mayor said, he hadn’t been to any of those Tax Commission meetings”, and according to the minutes of those meetings, that’s true.  He has not been to any monthly Natchitoches Tax Commission Board meetings even though he is one of six commissioners.  Considering our District Attorney Billy Joe Harrington, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, the Attorney General of Louisiana, Jeff Landry, and the Louisiana Dept. of Revenue have all been notified, and all are investigating, in some capacity, the Natchitoches Tax Commission’s actions; why wouldn’t the Mayor demand the collections of the taxes when he has the power to do so?  
Mayor Posey is quoted, in the June 13, 2019 Natchitoches Times article, “1 cent sales tax levied on I-49 corridor to support sports park” “the City will be “desperate” for revenue to operate and maintain the sports park since there is not enough reoccurring money in the recreation budget for that purpose.” 
If that quote is true, the Mayor should be demanding the Natchitoches Tax Commission to collect the money it so desperately needs, not skipping almost every meeting for the past year, and failing to fairly collect taxes from all the businesses in town, especially when there are known tax arrearages that are collectable.     
I encourage all citizens to show up Monday at the city council meeting to voice their opinions, and demand accountability for fairness and justice in how our city is run.   My suggestion is to dedicate the existing 2% TIF tax to pay for the expenses of the new ballpark. Then, the City of Natchitoches should collect the back taxes owed.  Let’s show the State of Louisiana we treat all businesses fairly, and the government in Natchitoches will not tolerate corruption or favoritism within its ranks.
 
 
Jay Sharplin
Sharpco Hotels Group