In The News › Jeff may consider Fat City tax district

Apr 23, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Jeff may consider Fat City tax district

Jeff may consider Fat City tax district
Council may hire counsel to guide it
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
By Richard Rainey
East Jefferson bureau

As residents and businesses of Fat City in Metairie grapple with stubborn drainage problems, blighted properties and crime, Jefferson Parish’s elected officials continue to bandy about ways to use tax dollars to spur redevelopment in the hardscrabble neighborhood.

As if in search of a guiding hand, the Parish Council may rehire a New Orleans law firm today to help pilot the onset of a special tax district around Lakeside Shopping Center to generate money for such a revival.

The firm, Adams & Reese LLC, has been advising council members and Parish President Aaron Broussard’s administration since December about two special tax districts recently created in West Jefferson. Council approval today would expand that contract to include Fat City and set a payment cap to the firm at $300,000 — twice the amount under the existing contract.

The move appears to leapfrog much of the process: hiring a bond counsel to secure financing for projects in a special tax district that doesn’t exist yet. However, Councilwoman Jennifer Sneed, whose district includes Fat City, said she wants Adams & Reese because she believes the parish can benefit now from the advice of one of its experts.

“My interest was very specific, it’s one person. His name’s Ray Cornelius,” she said. Sneed emphasized that Adams & Reese had not been paid for its work so far, and that the new contract only increased a spending cap but did not guarantee payment.

“This guy may never be paid a dime for his work; he may be paid substantially for his work. Until we get deeper into the process, we don’t know how we’re going to utilize his skills,” she said.

Finance Director Gwen Bolotte said Adams & Reese would be paid only after the district is created and the parish began to spend money on redevelopment projects. Cornelius could not be reached Tuesday at Adams & Reese.

Expanding the oversight of the law firm comes in tandem with a new bill in the state House to approve the Fat City special district, known as a tax increment financing district, or TIF. Introduced in March by Rep. John LaBruzzo, R-Metairie, H.B. 465 would extend the district from Veterans Memorial Boulevard to West Esplanade Avenue, and from Division Street to Causeway Boulevard.

The creation of any TIF requires legislative approval in Baton Rouge. Some parish administrators and council members said they met with the Jefferson delegation Tuesday to discuss the TIF legislation, among other topics.

The creation of a TIF allows the government to use new sales tax revenue captured within the boundaries of the district to pay for local economic development projects, such as new shopping centers, business parks or beautification efforts.

The concept is not without its critics. Joan Howard, president of the Bureau of Governmental Research, a public policy watchdog group, said Jefferson’s recent proclivity to create TIFs has come without any guiding public policies.

“You wind up doing things on an ad hoc basis based on who has had the political clout to get it done,” she said. “As the district grows and develops as it’s supposed to, the rest of the parish has to pick up the costs and services” associated with the district’s new infrastructure needs.

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Richard Rainey can be reached at rrainey@timespicayune.com or (504) 883-7052.

Apr 23, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

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