Baker mayor: sales tax is ‘perpetual,’ does not expire

Mayor Harold Rideau said Baker, recently accused in an audit of collecting a half-cent sales tax that may have expired two years ago, has done nothing wrong because the tax is perpetual and does not expire.

An auditor with Postlethwaite & Netterville issued a finding in the city’s 2012-2013 financial audit that said the city may have been wrongly levying a 10-year, half-cent sales tax, originally passed in May 2001, without going to voters to renew it in 2010.

According to the ballot that went to voters on May 5, 2001, there was no date for the sales tax — dedicated to Police and Fire Department salaries and equipment — to expire.

According to the Louisiana Election Code, if the tax on the ballot is for a limited time, that time must be published on the ballot.

Because no time period was on the ballot, the sales tax is perpetual or permanent, Rideau said.

Rideau and City Attorney Ken Fabre said Monday they told auditor Freddy Smith the sales tax was permanent and there was no time limit.

Smith did not return a call Monday.

“It is untrue that the city has been collecting an expired sales tax and the proof is on the ballot at the Secretary of State’s Office,” Fabre said.

In the finding, auditors recommended the city revisit the issue and obtain a legal opinion on whether the tax should be re-levied.

In its response to the audit, the city said no action needed to be taken.

Rideau said the city has collected about $1.3 million in sales tax revenue from September 2011 to the present, which is the contested time period for the tax.

City Council President Joyce Burges said Monday she and other council members have always been told by the administration that the tax was permanent.

“But there has been ongoing conversation about the issue for years. I’m going to go with what the voters voted on,” Burges said.