St. Landry to seek sales tax for roads

The St. Landry Parish Council on Monday approved for the Oct. 19 ballot a 2-cent sales tax proposition that parish officials say will generate an estimated $7 million annually for road construction and maintenance in the unincorporated areas.

St. Landry operates its 810-mile parishwide road maintenance program without the help of a parishwide sales tax or property millage.

Funding for roads outside the city limits comes from about $850,000 in annual State Transportation Fund revenues and a portion of slot machine revenues from the Evangeline Downs Racino, which provides about $1.5 million annually, according to the council’s 2013 general fund budget.

Councilman Wayne Ardoin said consumers pay a 7.55 cent sales tax outside the parish’s municipalities. That sales tax does not fund roads.

In previous meetings, however, Ardoin and Councilwoman Pam Gautreau have questioned parish officials whether the entire amount from the racino fund actually goes toward road maintenance.

Former Parish President Don Menard attempted to pass a pair of parishwide property taxes dedicated for road maintenance during his administration beginning in 2004, but both attempts failed by large margins.

St. Landry also funds road programs from property tax millages in nine special taxing districts. St. Landry has 13 council districts.

The council voted 10-0 on Monday, with an abstention by Ronald Buschel, to place the proposition on the ballot.

Buschel gave no reason for his abstention. Absent from the meeting were Dexter Brown and Fekisha Miller-Matthews.

During the council’s regular meeting April 17, the council discussed at length a draft of the proposition passed Monday but voted to delay action after some members disagreed with some of the wording and several other related issues.

Also on April 17, some council members asked Parish President Bill Fontenot if he planned to use the same priority list created by the Menard administration.

Fontenot said the priority list used for the previous tax millage elections would be used to fix roads if the Oct. 19 proposition passes.

If roads on the priority list have already received maintenance, Fontenot said, then those would not be repaired again.

Fontenot also told the council that the road proposition revenues would include resurfacing or overlaying hard surfaced roadways. If there is money left over, Fontenot said, it would be possible to start reconditioning gravel roads in the parish.

The council has discussed the idea of a sales tax to fund parish roads and maintenances used by a parishwide road district for the past several months.

On Monday, Fontenot urged the council to move forward quickly with getting the proposition to the public for consideration.

Also Monday, council attorney Lance Pitre said the money for the road maintenance would be bonded over a 10-year period beginning Jan. 1.

The sales tax covers a total period of 15 years, ending Dec. 31, 2028.

“The reason for bonding the money is so the projects can get underway as soon as possible. You won’t have to wait for a tax to be collected for a year,” Pitre said in an interview after the meeting.

Pitre also told the council that Eric Lafleur had turned in the low bid to become bonding attorney for the proposition measure at a cost of about $35,000.

Bonding attorney Hugh Martin submitted a bid at a cost that was 10 percent higher, Pitre said.

After being questioned by Councilman Timothy LeJeune at Monday’s meeting, both Lafleur and Pitre said the proposition is “clear” that all of the revenues from the Oct. 19 proposition will be placed strictly for road reconstruction.