Commission OKs November vote that could build, water park, convention center in South Monroe

Group to use funds for a Water Park, Convention Center and Black Business in South Monroe  

The Louisiana Bond Commission approved a tax proposal by a Monroe group that could mean as much as $4 million for Economic Development in South Monroe.

The Bond Commission at its July 20 meeting, approved a ballot application by the Southside Economic Development District of the City of Monroe to impose a two percent Hotel Occupancy Tax, for 30 years, beginning January 1, 2018. The proceeds of the tax would be for: (1) construction, acquisition, upgrades to capital improvement projects and (2) any and all authorized purposes.

Charles Theus, Executive Director of the Southside Economic Development District, says the commission’s approval clears the way for the measure to be placed on the November 18, 2017 ballot. If approved it would go into effect January 1st.

About $141,000 a year

Theus said the tax, if approved by voters, would generate about $141,000 a year in increased hotel tax revenues from the hotels located in the district. The hotels would collect an additional two percent occupancy tax from its guest which would then be turned over to the Southside Economic District for projects to improve the economics of South Monroe.

“We got a couple of projects that we explained to the bonding commission. We are looking at projects for our kids like a water park with a private developer and a convention center with a private developer and a loan program for small businesses,” said Theus

“We do have the ability to bundle up all of the money” and get the proceeds in advance based on a dedicated 30-year tax passage, said Theus.

If the tax passes voter approval a total of $3 million could be avail”able to the Southside group for its planned projects.

Theus said the SEDD has an attorney’s general opinion that says there is unlimited use of the funds once generated, but the SEDD wants to use the money for “projects that will benefit the district.”

“Very high on the list is that we are going to do things that will benefit black folks in the district,” said Theus.

Mayo reverses prior opposition

The SEDD was the legislative brainchild of former state Senator Charles Jones who set up the program to benefit South Monroe. It was passed by the legislature over the opposition of Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo and the Chamber of Commerce who testified against it. Once approved, Mayo seized control of the operation and for the most part, it sat dormant for over a decade.

In Recent years, interest in the SEDD was revived when Rev. Ray Jones was appointed to SEDD board and became its head. Jones instantly began a push to implement the hotel tax provisions of the law and began to operate independently of Mayor Mayo.

When the city council passed enabling legislation written by Councilman Eddie Clark and pushed by former Councilman Ray Armstrong, the mayor opposed the hotel tax idea as illegal and illogical.

City council meetings were feisty and contentious as the mayor opposed councilman Clark’s efforts to promote the South Side proposal. Now Council president Gretchen Ezernak also opposed the SEDD proposal and voted against it each time

With the help of former council members: Armstrong, Betty Blakes, Kenneth Wilson and  Clark, Jones received $75,000 to purchase a building on Arizona Street and opened a business incubator for several micro businesses. He also began a push to get the hotel tax on the ballot but had to fight the Mayo administration in court which took Jones to court, shut down the incubator and took back the building it gave to SEDD.

With Jones out Theus became the director and continued the pursuit of the hotel tax to fund the SEDD.

Theus was able to get Mayo to get on board with the SEDD, even getting a check from the city for $50,000 to help get things rolling.

Quietly, Theus led the SEDD to get the tax proposal on the ballot. He appeared before the Bonding Commission three times, with the third time being a charm. Mayor Mayo was present at the Bonding Commission Thursday and testified that he favored the proposal. He told them that the idea of the tax proposal was his idea.

When Jones first began promoting the hotel tax proposal three years ago, Mayo opposed the idea saying that it would be bad for business. This week however, he has reversed course.

Thursday, the mayor said, “Mayor Jamie Mayo comments, “I appreciate the State Bond Commission for their unanimous vote to allow the voters within the SEDD to decide upon a measure that would allow for a 2% hotel occupancy tax, within the district, to generate funds that would be used to help enhance infrastructure and attract new business development within south Monroe.  From the numbers that have been shared with us, depending on which hotel a person stays at with the SEDD boundaries, they would approximately be charged anywhere from an additional $1 to $4 per hotel night stay.  On the grand scheme of things, that’s not a lot to ask for when you’re trying to enhance an entire economic corridor.”     “We especially thank Senator Jones for his work and vision and the things he has done and the mayor. We look forward to hearing from the citizens, hearing the things that they want to see happen in the district,” said Theus.

SEDD board members include Gladys Smith, Wardell Coward, Augusta Turner, Rose Johnson, Sam Shaw and Jasmyne McConnell.

Theus said the SEDD “use to be under the city” but since 2004 has been self-governing.

Although there are over 30 hotels in the parish, only the eight located inside the South Monroe district would be affected by the 2 percent occupancy increase. Those whose guests are residential would be exempted.

SEDD has two funding components, both of which require voter approval. One imposes a tax on South Side Hotels. The second requires a cooperative agreement between the City of Monroe and the City School Board to give up all or a portion of the sales tax revenue they receive from the district and turn it over to SEDD to help the South Side. If that agreement is made, it too must be approved by the voters.

Just Southside or the Entire City?

Whether it will require the entire city or just the residents of the district is expected to be the sticking point.

The enacting legislation contains verbiage that says, “Upon approval of a majority of the qualified electors of the city of Monroe.”

Former SEDD President Ray Jones says the language requires the entire city to approve the hotel tax, even though it will only be collected in South Monroe.

Senator Charles Jones has repeatedly said that when he attempted to get the law passed, he received so much opposition from Mayo and the Chamber that the only way he could get it passed was for the entire city to vote, not just the people who live in the district.

However, Theus said he has an Attorney General’s opinion that clarifies that the “City of Monroe” reference refers to people in the district, not the city itself.

He said he and the SEDD board members are not worried about possible legal challenges to the tax ballot.

 

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