Attorneys argue New Roads, Pointe Coupee road tax lawsuit

City of New Roads and Pointe Coupee Police Jury attorneys asked a state district judge Tuesday to delay ruling in a lawsuit while both governing bodies try to settle issues over the jury’s move to raise city residents’ taxes to pay for street and road improvements.

Attorneys for both sides, who spent nearly seven hours arguing their cases in 18th Judicial District Court on Tuesday, wound up asking District Judge James Best to render his ruling at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

“Our taxpayers anxiously await a ruling of this court (and) my ruling will be what I think will be sustained by the Louisiana Supreme Court,” Best said from the bench. “I envision some type of agreement that would benefit both governing bodies, and if it benefits the governing bodies, then it certainly benefits the citizens of the parish.”

New Roads Mayor Robert Myer had asked the court to block the Police Jury’s April 23 decision to levy the full amount of a 3.42-mill tax on city property owners who had been paying half that amount, or 1.71 mills, since the tax was enacted in 1997.

Households in New Roads and Livonia had been exempt from paying the full 3.42 mills in force parishwide because the two municipalities had populations in excess of 1,000 and both maintained their own street-paving programs.

But the Police Jury decided to revoke the two municipalities’ annual exemption from the road tax by asserting the parish government has been conducting a parishwide road maintenance program of its own since 1997.

The town of Livonia has not challenged the millage increase.

“This is an important issue,” Best said as testimony was starting. “This case is new to me; never had something like this. This needs to be packaged and sent to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal, then up to the state’s Supreme Court. The burden of proof is on the city. Does New Roads maintain a system of street paving to not be levied the full millage?”

Myer and city Finance Director Cherie Rockforte testified the city took on about $2.5 million in bond debt in 2011 to cover construction and engineering costs for several large road projects inside the city limits.

They cited four such projects: construction of the new city economic corridor, Memorial Boulevard; the Tenth Street extension; an evacuation route for a subdivision prone to flooding; and a proposed industrial park.

But Parish Administrator Jim Bello told the court the parish had “dedicated” nearly $700,000 in bond revenue to help New Roads pay for Memorial Boulevard construction costs and the evacuation route in addition to maintaining the city’s existing streets and roadways.

Bello added that the Police Jury had provided more than $1 million to fund ongoing road projects scheduled for construction in New Roads during 2013.

“The city has not introduced evidence of a street paving program; they’ve just presented projects,” Dannie Garrett, the parish’s attorney, told the judge. “It seems like they haven’t crossed the threshold (for exemption) and that’s whether they maintain a system of street paving.”

Pointe Coupee Parish “maintains existing roads, we create new roads,” countered Paul LeBlanc, one of the city’s attorneys. “All the new roads being paved are coming from the city, not the parish. That’s what we’re doing, creating a new (road) system.”