Pointe Coupee Parish Police Juror Justin Cox presented an ambitious plan to his fellow jurors this week to address budget shortfalls in the tax-averse parish.
But some of his colleagues say they see it as a long shot with little hope of success.
Cox wants to sit down with officials from the more than 20 taxing entities in the parish and persuade those with generous surpluses to give up a few of their voter-approved millages and rededicate them to the Police Jury.
He thinks it's the smartest way to generate new revenue for several agencies in a parish that struggles to balance its budgets every year and can’t convince voters to approve new taxes.
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The parish has the second lowest property tax millage in the state and doesn’t pull in enough money from dedicated property taxes to keep its bills paid and provide services the public expects.
Pointe Coupee Parish landowners, on average, are levied 53.7 mills for various dedicated taxes, according to 2016 report from the Louisiana Tax Commission.
Cox's idea of pooling the resources of taxing entities that enjoy healthy surpluses has gotten strong support from several top leaders in the parish's business community.
But those who've been navigating the parish’s political waters for many years say his idea is one that has already been tried and failed.
"Justin really believes there is the way to do this, but he's fooling himself," said Jury President Melanie Bueche.
Bueche said parish leaders undertook a similar effort 20 years ago when she was first elected to the Police Jury. Talks went nowhere because other taxing authorities refused to give up any taxpayer dollars voters approved for them just because the Police Jury was barely making ends meet.
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"They would have meetings and things would get hostile because they didn't like being pushed around," she said. "They knew they didn't have to do it."
The Police Jury can only pull property tax revenue from the taxing agencies it oversees, according to parish officials, like the parish's five fire districts, library system and a few sewer and water districts. If by chance Cox was successful, the Police Jury would then have to get voters to approve the redistribution of revenue in a parishwide election.
Cox thinks the Police Jury wouldn't be the only entity that might benefit from his proposal. He said his idea could also help the parish's School District and Sheriff's Office who both need additional revenue to operate more smoothly, but would likely get shot down by voters if they tried to increase their millage rates.
Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff Bud Torres is threatening legal action against the Police Jury …
Cox’s idea has found favor with Pointe Coupee Parish Chamber of Commerce President Arthur Ewing.
"The bottom line is that we’ve got underpaid teachers and neighborhoods that continue to flood," said Ewing, a local businessman. "Despite our low millage, we’re No. 15 in the state for per capita property tax collections because companies are attracted to the low millage."
He said increasing tax millage rates would weaken the parish’s position in competing for business investment and “it makes more sense to reallocate our existing millage and not send more money where it’s not needed."
But Cox's proposal was already dealt one major setback this week.
Her tried to get the Police Jury to walk back its promise to hold a special election to renew a tax for the parish's library system. Doing so, Cox argued, would allow him to sit at the table with the other taxing authorities and pitch his plan. If successful, the Police Jury could then present voters with a comprehensive proposal for reallocation of tax revenue that would have the backing of multiple entities.
Cox's measure was defeated by a majority of the jury who favored going forward with the special election for the library tax renewal as planned.
The library system was one of the parish's agencies sitting on a healthy surplus of revenue — approximately $4 million, Cox said.
"I was very disappointed," Cox said about the vote. "A tool was taken away from the leaders of the parish to come together and get a tax plan in place that would better the entire parish."
Cox said he's still charging forward with his plan to meet with other tax authorities despite this week's defeat.
"We're going to ask them to come to the table," he said.
Fellow Juror Kurt Jarreau, who was among the majority that voted against Cox's proposal Tuesday night, has just as much doubt as Bueche.
"At the end of the day, no one will budge an inch," he said.