New Roads slapped with road tax hike after losing lawsuit

Mayor Robert Myer on Wednesday lost his courtroom fight to block the Pointe Coupee Parish Police Jury from raising New Roads residents’ taxes to pay for street and road improvements.

District Judge James Best dismissed Myer’s lawsuit, ruling the city failed to prove it should remain exempt from the full amount of the road tax because New Roads doesn’t provide and maintain its own independent system of street paving.

The Police Jury unanimously adopted adjusted millage rates for Livonia and New Roads during a special meeting an hour after Best scuttled Myer’s lawsuit. Livonia was not a party to the lawsuit.

The new millage rates for the two municipalities are expected to generate an additional $70,000 annually for the parish treasury.

“The Police Jury has tremendous respect for the town of New Roads,” Jury President Melanie Bueche said in a prepared statement. “The Police Jury is looking forward, not behind.”

Best decided the case himself because both governing bodies had failed to reach an overnight compromise after the merits of the case were argued Tuesday in 18th Judicial District Court.

“It was a challenging issue; I’ve done the best I can with this issue,” Best told both sides in ruling from the bench. “I’m confident my decision will be held all the way up to the Louisiana Supreme Court.”

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 only half that amount, or 1.71 mills, since the tax was enacted in 1997.

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

The Police Jury finally revoked Livonia and New Roads’ annual exemption by asserting the parish government has been conducting a parishwide road maintenance program of its own since 1997.

“Clearly, the governmental guardian of the streets of New Roads, for the purposes of maintaining a system of street paving, is and has been for as far as anyone can remember, the Pointe Coupee Parish Police Jury,” Best asserted in his written ruling.

Best said the city’s argument that the $2.5 million New Roads had spent in constructing a new business corridor and several proposed road projects did not meet constitutional standards for exemption to the road tax.

“This supposed ‘look to the future for a better tomorrow’ theory is simply not consistent with the jurisprudential test for proving a good faith system of paving roads,” Best wrote.

Myer said he also will proceed forward by appealing Best’s ruling to a higher court.

“I think the judge was right in saying it’s an important tax matter,” Myer said, adding that the judge “said he would make the right decision, unfortunately, he didn’t.”

Myer said the parish government’s attempt during last-minute negotiations to offer the city a small percentage of the road tax revenues would have been an “illogical decision” to accept.

“Under the Louisiana Constitution,” Myer said, “a city with more than 1,000 residents and a street-paving program should not be double taxed.”