CLINTON — The East Feliciana Parish Police Jury voted 5-3 Monday to try to collect disputed sales taxes on repair work that officials say local industries could have charged their customers during a 26-month period early in this decade.
At issue are taxes on repairs to equipment owned by companies outside of Louisiana. At one time, East Feliciana taxing bodies had the option of exempting the repair work from sales taxes. Since then, the state has prohibited parish taxing bodies from charging sales tax for that type of work.
The move was opposed by representatives of Anvil Attachments, a Slaughter firm that makes and repairs grapples and buckets, Slaughter Mayor Robbie Jackson and parish residents involved in economic development efforts.
Industry and Slaughter officials have long argued that forcing the companies to charge the out-of-state customers sales taxes put the local firms at a competitive disadvantage against companies in other states that did not have to collect taxes for the same type of work.
Mississippi economic development officials, in particular, have wooed East Feliciana Parish companies in an attempt to get them to move across the state line.
The Police Jury had a three-year moratorium on charging the taxes, but the suspension expired May 1, 2010, and parish officials did not catch the oversight until mid-2012.
On July 2, 2012, the jury voted to permanently suspend the tax collections, but the question of whether the taxes should have been collected in the interim remained in dispute.
A 2013 Attorney General’s opinion says taxing authorities are required to pursue unpaid taxes unless the cost of collecting them would outweigh the revenue recovered.
The jury voted in February 2014 not to try to recover the taxes, but District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla said the jury received “misinformation” at that meeting about the cost-benefit ratio.
D’Aquilla also said the jury is constitutionally obligated to recover the revenue.
Jury President Dennis Aucoin said the amount of money owed the parish has not been determined by tax experts working for the jury and the parish School Board, which also levies sales taxes.
Anvil Attachments President Jon Craft said his company does not like being told they are exempt from taxes at one time, then later being told the opposite.
Jackson said his community has already lost one industry, and 65 jobs, because of the treatment it received from the parish.
Anvil Attachments attorney Robert Angelico said the state Supreme Court has ruled that local governments can give away tax money as long as they get something in return. He argued that Anvil Attachments has made a large investment in the parish, provides jobs to local residents and pays other taxes. The company’s employees also pay taxes, he said.
Jurors Sean Smith, Larry Beauchamp, Keith Mills, Ed Brooks and Jason McCray voted for the resolution, which authorizes the School Board, the parish’s sales tax collection agency, to pursue all taxes due on repairs made during the 26-month interval.
Jurors Louis Kent, Dwight Hill and Chris Hall opposed the resolution. Aucoin, whose practice is not to vote except to break a tie, did not take a formal position on the matter.