I-49 corridor tax tabled


City will find a way to pay for Parc Natchitoches maintenance

By Carolyn Roy Carolyn@natchitochestimes.com

The City Council tabled its proposed TIF tax of 1 percent on Interstate businesses at the meeting Monday. The vote was 5-0 to table, but it took about 45 minutes of discussion before the vote was taken with little new information emerging. City Attorney Ronald Corkern said the main reason for tabling the proposal was because of the many questions that have arisen. When the ordinance creating the tax was first proposed, the intention was that it be only a sales tax. However, the ordinance wording was later found to state it would be a sales and use tax.

The Legislative action that created TIF district tax specified a TIF tax must be both sales and use. Therefore the ordinance could not be rewritten to specify only a sales tax. Corkern said no changes could be made to the ordinance that was proposed should it come off the “table” for another vote. A change would require a new ordinance.

Elaine Sparks, who works at a hotel on I-49, expressed what many in the tourism and hospitality industry have said before, that it seems unfair to them to apply the tax only to businesses on I-49. “It’s a divided issue. Why can’t we all be taxed?” she asked referring to other hotels and restaurants. Sparks said her hotel just dropped room rates $1 to get the bid for a large group. Jay Sharplin, who owns hotels at I-49, said while the tax is only for 1 percent, it would matter on a $50,000 account for multiple bookings.

He said he was often asked about the tax rate at his hotels. Also, many of his customers are long-term occupancies such as construction workers, to whom the added tax would make a difference.

Councilperson Eddie Harrington first said he had an issue with part of the tax going to Northwestern State and wanted to know what the money would be used for, whether for athletics, education, etc. “It doesn’t hurt an individual’s pocketbook that much but my ultimate question is, is it even needed?” Harrington said he believed that part of the existing 2 percent tax in the economic district at I-49 could be used for operation and maintenance at the sports park.

Councilman Lawrence Batiste expressed several concerns, namely whether the park could be used by the whole community and whether many would have transportation to the park. He had several concerns raised by his constituents.

Councilman Don Mims had a meaningful summation. He said that initially, the tax was meant to be a way for the City to pay for the park that would be a “great asset” without the residents of Natchitoches having to pay for it. He said the idea was that I-49 is an immense hub of traffic where the tax could be collected. If it were applied downtown, residents would also pay the tax.

Councilman Dale Nielsen said the park had great economic potential and he was disappointed that “the train ran off the track.” He acknowledged that there were valid concerns and questions. “We need to regroup on the sale and use tax…take a deep breath. We’re all family and somehow we’ll make this work for everyone.

Realtor Mary White said she was in favor of the tax. She cited attending travel ball games for her grandchildren’s travel and never called ahead to ask how much the tax rate was. “No matter how much they charge, we’ll stay in those hotels. People who come her to the complex won’t care how much they pay.”

Mayor Lee Posey reiterated that the park would be a great economic development tool for both the City and Northwestern State. His financial staff is developing a performer, or statement of what revenue the park should yield. As for using part of the existing 2 percent TIF tax being collected at I-49, Posey said that fund was nearly depleted when he was elected and now being built up.

In 1988, the City spent $2 million to build infrastructure there to attract businesses such as the hotels and restaurants. “I’ve done pretty much anything you asked me for,” he said, referring to several concrete projects and a service road between hotels west of the interstate. He also said that the City was always finding ways to attract tourists to events in the City in an effort to draw visitors who stayed, ate and bought gas at the interstate. Posey also said that even if the additional TIF tax was never passed, the City would find a way to pay for the operation and maintenance of the park. Posey said he didn’t know if this issue would come up again in two weeks or two months. “I don’t know at this particular time.”

In other business, the council introduced two planning and zoning ordinances. The first was to rezone 1736 Washington for a law office for Charles Seaman. The site is a former plant nursery and house. It was approved by the planning and zoning commission. The second was rezoning of 219 Williams Ave for a dentist office by Ted Methvin. The commission denied the request. Bill Finical and Betty Mulroney expressed their objections to the rezoning. The council will vote on the items at the meeting July 22.