Posey, I-49 corridor business owners discuss proposed TIF tax

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The I-49 corridor, or Economic Development District C, that was established in August 2010 is the area affected by the proposed tax.

Fundamental points dominate open meeting

By Carolyn Roy, carolyn@natchitochestimes.com

Mayor Lee Posey answered questions and got input Monday from a room full of people who were there to talk about a proposed 1-cent sales tax to be charged to those who do business in the Interstate 49 corridor. Most of the approximately 40 people at the meeting either work at or own businesses at I-49.

At the last City Council meeting, Posey proposed the tax that I-49 businesses, Economic Development District C, will charge to their customers that should generate $250,000 annually. Posey said the money was needed for operation and maintenance at the City’s new sports park but later detailed that half will be given to Northwestern State University.

The two fundamental points that emerged at the meeting Monday were that a majority of those attending believe the tax should be charged all over the city and not just at their establishments.

The second point was that the proposed ordinance creating the tax states is not just a sales tax but is a sales and use tax. That means that business owners will not only charge the tax on sales, but must pay the tax on its purchases also. Posey said his intention was for the tax to only be on sales and he would address the wording of the ordinance with the City attorney.

Posey spent most of his comments addressing what he said were prior conversations with business owners at I-49 who have told him they supported his idea to build a sports park. He introduced the park after his election in 2013. In 2016, City voters rededicated an existing water and sewer tax with half of an $18 million surplus with half to go towards sports and recreation, including the sports park, and City infrastructure updates.

He said that while the sports park, Parc Natchitoches, will attract numerous tournaments, it will also benefit Northwestern State University that he said was the lifeblood of Natchitoches. That’s why he proposes to split the tax proceeds with NSU. Posey said that NSU is a major draw for visitors because of their athletic activities and the park could be used as a recruiting tool for the university for tournaments. He said, “You always want to help your local university…the more we can help them the better.”

Other universities have entered into agreements with municipalities to share in TIF taxes to generate revenue and provide use of sporting facilities such as Parc Natchitoches. It is a way for both entities to attract more people with mutual benefits.

That would account for giving half the tax to NSU. As for the City’s share of the tax, Posey said numerous sports complexes around the state did not provide for operation and maintenance which precipitated the decline of the facilities.

Parc Natchitoches will have a five-plex of ballfields that can be adapted for baseball and softball teams for all ages. It will also feature a pavilion containing restrooms and concession stands. There will be five batting cages and a storage unit, four regulation soccer fileds, nature trails, a natural wooded area, beginner bike trails and a stocked fish pond.

He believes that half the tax will provide the operation and maintenance costs that have not been budgeted yet. Posey said several times he was surprised at the resistance to the proposed tax because he had discussed it in three meetings with District C businesses and “had no push back.”

Avi Patel, owner of Econo Lodge, said with the increase in events stemming from the park, there should be no need for more taxes. He also said the tax should be collected in downtown because that area also would benefit from the park. “Why do you need extra money? Why not downtown?” he asked. Patel said he feared losing day-to-day customers who compared local prices while choosing lodging. Linda Anderson, who owns French Market Express, told Posey that she favored the park and but asked why not extend the tax collections into town.

“Why were a few businesses selected and not the whole town? It seems a little bit unfair with other businesses as close to the park as we are,” she said in citing Sonic and Super 1. “Spread it out.” Two other comments from unidentified speakers were why build the park if the City couldn’t pay for it and why was there no budget for the park costs.

Jay Sharplin, a vocal and frequent critic of Posey, said many of the I-49 business owners were opposing the tax because the City has yet to collect back taxes not paid by Chateau St. Denis on a value added package. Sharplin said he had asked Posey on numerous occasions why he did not direct the Natchitoches Tax Commission director to go after the taxes the hotel failed to pay for 18 months. Posey said he was the one “who ran interference” and who got the hotel to begin paying the taxes last July but did not know how much the back taxes were.

“Like my wife tells me, you’re lying by omission. We told you the money’s out there.” He said the amount did not matter, just that the hotel had not be required to pay the tax. “It looks like you’re picking winners and losers. That’s the perception…go get that money.”

Sharplin said Posey kept asking for money from the I-49 businesses but would not pursue the taxes from the hotel. “You’re subsidizing one business over 19 others.”

A La. Attorney General’s opinion secured by the Natchitoches Tourist Commission last year said the valued added package was taxable and the commission “should” collect the back taxes.

Posey said the letter from the attorney general was disputed but there should be something forthcoming in the next 30 days. Posey said that a 2 cent tax is currently being collected in District C and has been used for infrastructure projects such as building a road, several concrete projects and a passage way between two hotels.

The vote on the tax should come at the next City Council meeting July 8.