SADOW: Make A Case Before Asking For More Taxation

Here’s an example of wrong-headed fiscal policy that tries to squeeze more out Louisiana taxpayers.

Next month, most registered voters in Bossier Parish face a ballot question whether essentially to double property taxes they pay to support the Cypress-Black Bayou Recreation and Water Conservation District. A state political subdivision since 1958, local residents mainly know the area in the middle of the parish for its water recreation possibilities, park and recreational vehicle/camping areas, and its small zoo and Nature Center. Additionally, about 750 private properties abut the water, with that shoreline regulated by the district.

In 2014, voters approved with 57 percent of the vote a reauthorization of a 1.54 mill property tax in the 65 of 81 precincts attached to the district (that since has rolled forward to 1.56 mills). At the time, the district’s commission – comprised of appointees by local governments, one of which includes the executive director Robert Berry – faced monetary woes and pledged to cut back on some offerings while increasing user fees to get the district into the black.

It implemented these changes, but the shortfalls continued. In 2018, it spent over $300,000 more than the $1.7 million it took in, with about 65 percent of that coming from the tax, 32 percent from various fees levied on visitors and property owners, and the remainder from state government and miscellaneous sources. In response to the gap, it has decreased significantly capital outlay. However, its streamlined 2019 budget forecasts a small increase in reserves.

In light of this, earlier this year the commissioners voted to impose, if approved by the electorate, a new tax of 3 mills for ten years that would cancel the existing one five years early. This would bring in around a million more bucks a year, 97 percent of which would come from those without property on the district’s water.

On Sep. 19 (at 10 AM, when few working taxpayers can attend) the district will have a voter information meeting at the somewhat out-of-the-way Nature Center. Initial reports are that commissioners will try to sell the public on the tax hike by saying fees will be slashed or eliminated and capital improvements will occur.

So, five unelected individuals decided that they should stick out their hands for more taxpayer resources when other solutions present themselves. Among these:

  • Why are users/landowners getting a break and the costs fobbed off on taxpayers, the vast majority of whom never will set foot in the place? Shouldn’t users bear more of the cost for the benefit they receive? And why not explore innovative pricing structures such as weekly, monthly, and yearly passes instead of the flat $4/day fee for adults and older children to spur revenue gains?
  • Why not have the state kick in more money, at least in terms of capital outlay? It is a state agency and the scope of its activities makes it seem more like a state park than anything else, yet the state shared only about $30,000 last year. Attending the meeting where commissioners approved the proposal was Republican state Sen. Ryan Gatti. Shouldn’t commissioners have asked him to fetch more state dollars before putting it on the shoulders of local taxpayers (or, if they did privately, he apparently wasn’t effective enough to secure these)?
  • What about cost cutting to leave more room for capital outlay? Almost a tenth of budgeted expenses will go to Berry’s salary (which is over a fifth of all payroll); should one employee receive so much? Does it need any or all of the Nature Center, zoo, or marina? Even the commissioners not taking their permitted $40/meeting (Berry does not) would show some good faith to taxpayers.

Some or none of these alternatives may work. But, if the district has researched these at all, it hasn’t tried to make the case with voters that it has done its due diligence and raising taxes is the absolutely last option. Until that happens, voters must reject this tax-hiking measure.

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