St. Tammany business groups endorse sales tax renewals for jail and courthouse

By Sara Pagones

Source: The Advocate

March 13, 2018

Three prominent business groups are backing a pair of proposed sales tax renewals for the St. Tammany Parish courthouse and jail, both of which voters have rejected twice before.

The St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce and the Northshore Business Council both announced their endorsement of the two one-fifth-cent sales taxes on Friday. The East St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce came out with a statement of support on Tuesday.

The taxes are each expected to generate $11.5 million a year to pay for operation and maintenance of the two facilities.

The taxes, currently at a quarter-cent, will expire on March 31, a week after the March 24 election.

The Northshore Business Council, an organization of about 60 CEOs, issued a short statement calling the jail and the St. Tammany Justice Center critical components of public safety and St. Tammany’s quality of life.

“As part of our ongoing mission to enhance the business climate and quality of life of the region, the NBC believes that a strong and properly funded justice system is vital for St. Tammany Parish’s residents and business growth,” the statement said.

It also quoted executive director Bonnie Eades, who said that while the group recognizes that the local, state and national tax structure is imperfect, “we also realize that we must invest in the things that matter. And a healthy public safety system is simply one of those things.”

The East St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce noted that its board of directors has supported the measures each time they’ve been on the ballot, calling them public-safety and quality-of-life issues.

The St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce, which also backed the taxes previously, issued a two-page explanation of its position, noting that its board of directors took time to research and evaluate the taxes before deciding what to do.

The board said it considered information presented by Sheriff Randy Smith and Leslie Long, chief financial officer for the parish government, as well as the decision of a chamber committee to endorse both propositions.

The board also considered presentations made last week by Parish President Pat Brister and Smith, plus a membership survey and a study by the Bureau of Governmental Research.

BGR recommended voting for the jail tax but against the courthouse tax, the chamber noted, and the membership survey results were “inconclusive, with opinion being very close on support/nonsupport.”

West Chamber CEO Lacey Toledano said that chamber leaders were disappointed by the low turnout in last year’s election, when only 9 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.

“This is not true representation of citizens’ support or lack of support,” she said, adding that the chamber will heavily promote the need to vote to its members.

“In the end, it is about public safety and quality of life,” she said.

The West Chamber’s support follows some tension between the group and parish government over another issue, a three-quarter-cent sales tax that went into effect in seven small economic development districts on Jan. 1, 2017. Those taxes, which were imposed without a ballot measure, brought the total sales tax in those districts to 10.5 percent.

The chamber asked the parish government in August to rescind the taxes, and Brister agreed in October to do so, citing opposition from the business community and concern about the possible impact of those taxes on attempts to renew the justice center and jail taxes.

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