Denham Springs — The economic development district around the Bass Pro Shops in Denham Springs ended last fiscal year in the black for the first time.
As the district’s tax base grows, the state is studying how to handle the thickening traffic nearby.
The Denham Springs Economic Development District posted a net surplus of $2.5 million as of June 30, according to a financial audit presented at the district’s board meeting last month.
The district had a half-million-dollar deficit at the same time a year before and was over $3 million in the red at the beginning of fiscal year 2013, according to an audit prepared by Hannis T. Bourgeois, LLP.
Auditors attribute the surplus to an increase in revenue from sales tax within the growing development district south of Interstate 12. The district raked in $5.6 million from sales tax last year, up slightly from the year before.
The extra tax money is allowing the district to pay back its start-up costs ahead of schedule. The district paid $1.6 million of debt in the last financial year in addition to the $2.8 million it was due to pay.
In 2007, the district issued $50 million in bonds to purchase land and build infrastructure in the area. The bonds were to mature in 2037, but former Mayor Jimmy Durbin expects they will be paid off much sooner.
An early payment will be a boon to the city government, Sheriff’s Office, School Board, Parish Council and drainage district, which have each pledged the majority of their in-district tax revenues to repaying the bonds. The bodies represent a combined 6 percent sales tax. The state also pledged to give the district half of its 4 percent sales tax for up to 20 years, up to $1.5 million annually.
Friday, Durbin, who was chairman of the DSEDD Corp., said the district would be able to cover the cost of the bonds by 2020 or 2021 — perhaps earlier as more businesses set up shop in the district.
“It’s going to continue to generate more sales tax,” he said. “It’s a huge success.”
The continued growth has come at a cost, however.
“There’s no doubt that traffic congestion isn’t going to get better, and it’s going to get worse in Denham Springs around the interstate,” Durbin said.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development is studying traffic patterns and flow around the city, district administrator Allison Schilling said, adding that the study is estimated to be completed around March.
The state is focusing on a rectangle formed by South Range Road, Florida Avenue, Pete’s Highway and Vincent Road, Schilling said. DOTD Secretary Sherri LeBas requested the “very comprehensive study” out of a concern for traffic in Denham Springs, Schilling said.
She declined to speculate on what kind of improvements may be suggested when the study concludes. DOTD has previously announced it will begin rehabilitating South Range Road around June by replacing asphalt and sealing cracks.
Durbin is optimistic that state leaders will try to help clear the way for the improvements.
“People don’t like to get tied up in traffic jams,” he said.
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