CLINTON — The East Feliciana Parish School Board is expected to vote Thursday on whether to exempt six parish businesses from charging their out-of-state customers sales taxes on equipment repair work.
School Superintendent Henderson Lewis announced the 5 p.m. special meeting after more than two hours of discussion about the sales tax exemption before the board’s Finance Committee on Monday.
With only Finance Committee Chairman Richard Terrell and member Paul Kent participating, the committee did not take a position on exempting the taxes.
Board members Olivia Harris and Beth Dawson, who are not on the Finance Committee, also attended the meeting. Terrell said he had hoped more board members would attend to hear the pros and cons of the tax exemption issue.
Representatives of several companies said the firms plan to move their operations if the exemption is not granted.
Tommy Kurtz, of Louisiana Economic Development, said the state agency would be forced to help the businesses that want to leave East Feliciana find locations in Zachary or other areas of the state, rather than lose them to Mississippi.
The state does not collect its 4 percent sales tax on equipment brought to Louisiana from other states for repairs, and state law authorizes East Feliciana to exempt such repair work from local sales taxes, 3 percent for the Police Jury and 2 percent for the School Board.
The parish has granted the exemption since the summer of 2007, but the exemption expired three years later and no one realized it until recently.
Two issues remained unresolved: whether the School Board should continue the exemption and what should be done about the two years the tax apparently should have been collected from the vendors’ out-of-state clients.
Police Juror Louis Kent said Tuesday that the jury reinstated the exemption going forward but is awaiting legal advice on what to do about past taxes.
School Board tax attorney Robert Rainer said the uncollected taxes are a debt owed by the vendors, and the state constitution prohibits public agencies from forgiving debt.
Lisa Shaffer, of Screening Systems International in Slaughter, said her family is “tired of fighting sharks” such as the threat of the tax being reinstated. She said the company’s main competition is not required to collect taxes from its customers.
“Our biggest competitor is in Monticello, Miss.,” she said.
“Our buildings are paid for; that’s the only thing that keeps us in the parish,” Shaffer said, urging the board to work with business owners to resolve the issue.
“I’m not making threats, because I don’t want to do this, but we’ll have to go to Mississippi,” she said.
Richard Harkrider, who owns a company that repairs ambulances, said most of his business comes from out-of-state clients. He said he would move to Zachary if the tax is required.