Police Jury hires attorney in tax fight with New Roads

The Pointe Coupee Parish Police Jury on Tuesday hired a Baton Rouge attorney to defend the parish against a lawsuit the city of New Roads filed after the jury moved to impose a tax increase on city residents to pay for street and road improvements.

The jury voted 9-1 Tuesday night to have attorney Dannie Garrett represent the parish in New Roads Mayor Robert Myer’s legal challenge to the Police Jury’s recent decision to raise more tax revenue by revoking the city’s annual road tax exemption.

For 17 years, New Roads and Livonia property owners were paying 1.71 mills each — half what everyone else in parish paid — in annual road taxes because the Police Jury was under the impression the municipalities maintained their own street-paving programs.

But since the parish also spent millions on roadwork in both municipalities, the Police Jury recently felt justified in requiring New Roads residents to pay the full 3.42-mill tax rate like the rest of the parish’s taxpayers.

In response, Myer filed a petition July 18 in 18th Judicial District Court asking a judge to block the Police Jury’s decision to collect the additional revenue from city property owners. Myer’s lawsuit calls the Police Jury’s action an “unconstitutional tax increase” because the jury didn’t take the matter to the voters.

Both parties are set to appear before District Judge James Best at 9 a.m. on July 30.

Jury President Melanie Bueche asked police jurors during their Tuesday night meeting if they wanted to change their minds on imposing the millage hike in New Roads.

A majority of the jurors responded that they welcomed the battle with New Roads, the parish seat.

Juror Cornell Dukes, who represents a large portion of New Roads, said he was in favor of dropping the move to collect additional taxes in the city because many of his constituents have homestead exemptions and would not pay much of the tax increase anyway.

Dukes said he had a change of heart after the state Legislative Auditor’s Office released an audit report Monday citing New Roads for violating state budget laws by overspending one of its 2012 budget accounts by $500,000 without properly amending its budget.

However Juror Albert Dukes, who cast the single dissenting vote in the jury’s decision to hire Garrett, said that he doesn’t believe it’s a “good idea” to push forward with a legal battle.