Livingston council votes against Juban Crossing sales tax proposal

The Livingston Parish Council on Thursday rejected a move to direct more sales tax revenue to the long-awaited Juban Crossing mixed-use development off Interstate 12 between Denham Springs and Walker.

The vote was 6-3 against, with only council members Joan Landry, Ricky Goff and Marshall Harris voting in favor of it.

The measure would have raised a 2007 pledge of 40 percent of a 3/4-cent road sales tax collected within the Juban Crossing Community Development District, which encompasses the development’s proposed area, to 100 percent to borrow money to finance road improvements in the development.

Stephen Keller, Juban Crossing’s developer, expressed disappointment in the vote after the meeting.

“I think that a lot of people don’t truly understand how the sales tax dollars work and what’s going back to the parish,” he said.

Keller, of Creekstone Companies, has said the project will move forward regardless of the extra revenue but will have to be scaled back without it.

“If that’s what the Parish Council feels they need to do, we’re supportive of what they think is correct,” Keller said Thursday. “We’re happy that they’ve helped us with the sales tax we had before.”

The Parish Council was set to vote on the ordinance July 25, but the proposal stalled after no council member seconded Goff’s motion to vote on the measure.

Thursday’s rejection came after Councilman Delos Blackwell moved to table the vote after residents said the ordinance needed to be reintroduced, and given another public hearing at a much later date, after it failed to gain approval at the last meeting.

Council members voted against Blackwell’s motion, 5-4.

Parish President Layton Ricks said after the meeting that he believed the council should have passed Blackwell’s motion, saying someone likely would have legally challenged the ordinance had it passed.

“It would have given the council the time to really get into this thing and look and decide all the different issues and have a better understanding of what they’re up against,” Ricks said. “It would have also given them time, I think, to educate the public on how the TIF (tax-incentive funding) is working.”

Ricks, though, said developers need to move forward with the deal that’s already in place.

“I’m in one way disappointed because the developer claims he needs it, but you know what? We’re giving up 40 percent,” he said. “He needs to take that now and he needs to make this develop into what he intended for it to be.”

The new ordinance was submitted to the council June 27, shortly after Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed legislation, for the second year in a row, that would have earmarked a portion of state sales tax money generated within the Juban Crossing district to pay off government borrowing for the project’s infrastructure.

The council’s rejection of the ordinance Thursday night came after yet another lengthy public hearing on the issue, during which residents spoke both in opposition and in favor of the measure.

Taryn Creekbaum, of Walker, challenged whether the council could even vote on the measure Thursday, considering nobody seconded Goff’s motion at the last meeting.

Creekbaum also questioned what the benefits of giving developers the extra money would be.

“We all want Juban Crossing. We’ve all agreed to partner with this developer,” Creekbaum said.

“Show me what I’m going to get” by giving him additional money, Creekbaum said.

Julie Dyason-Norris, a small business owner and commercial property owner, said local governments helped her when she wanted to start a business in a vacant Denham Springs building years ago.

The building now houses other stores, including a bookstore, salon and clothing store, she said.

“This Juban Crossing development is an opportunity for us,” she said.