St. Tammany Parish voters who live in a relatively new Slidell-area recreation district will decide Saturday whether to pay two new property taxes to build and operate Camellia Park, a recreation center modeled on Pelican Park, a popular complex in western St. Tammany.
Recreation District No. 16 covers Wards 8 and 9 but excludes the city of Slidell itself and the Oak Harbor/Eden Isles area, which already have other recreation facilities.
The two property taxes would total 8.9 mills, which board members say would put District 16 in the middle compared with millages collected by other recreation districts in the parish.
The owner of a $150,000 home would pay an additional $66.75 a year in taxes if the two measures pass, and board members say that’s what an average homeowner in the district would pay.
Both issues need to pass in order for Camellia Park to become a reality, said Sharon Hewitt, chairwoman of the recreation board.
Proposition No. 1 is a 4.75-mill tax that would fund a $14 million, 20-year bond issue to build the 75-acre first phase of Camellia Park near Airport Road and Belair Boulevard. Proposition No. 2 would generate $800,000 a year to operate and maintain the park.
The first phase would include a gymnasium with one or two basketball courts, a 50-meter swimming pool, 12 tennis courts and four rectangular fields.
Advocates of Camellia Park have been working to build support for the plan since last summer, when the recreation district’s board unveiled a master plan. At that time, a site had not been chosen.
Originally, the board planned to build a $21 million facility on a 300-acre site on U.S. 190, but it scaled back those plans after getting feedback from groups that said it was too expensive, Hewitt said earlier this year.
The district was able to lower the cost by moving the site. The Salmen family, which owns the land now under consideration, is willing to let the district buy the first 75 acres with the option of buying another 300 acres in the future.
Board members had hoped to persuade Slidell officials and leaders of another recreation district to become part of District 16, which would have increased the amount of property in the district and reduced the required millage. But that didn’t happen.
The fact that a large portion of Wards 8 and 9 is not included in the district is among the reasons that the ballot propositions are drawing opposition. The board of the Old River Road Homeowners Association voted against the proposals, saying St. Tammany has the highest millage rate in Louisiana and calling plans for the new park excessive compared with other facilities around the state.
Councilman Gene Bellisario said most of the people who attended a recent public meeting opposed the millages mainly because only about half the residents of the two wards would be paying the taxes.
Camellia Park has won other backing, however. The parish’s two chambers of commerce support the plan, and so does the St. Tammany Parish Economic Development Foundation, which said in a news release that parks increase property values.
Hewitt said some sports groups also have been vocal in their support, including the Slidell Youth Soccer Club and the Hurricane Swim Club.
But anonymous fliers are circulating in some neighborhoods in opposition to the millages.
Sue Rountree, a resident of Royal Estates, canvassed that neighborhood, passing out a flier that questioned the viability of the plan and arguing that the additional millage would make it harder to sell homes, among other objections.
Hewitt said similar fliers she has seen contain misinformation, and the recreation district board has issued a fact sheet to try to dispel misunderstandings.
For example, one flier claims that the propositions leave the door open for the parish to use the tax proceeds to pay parish salaries and administrative costs as well as expenses incurred by Camp Salmen and the public fishing pier. Hewitt said that isn’t accurate. Camp Salmen and the fishing pier would not get any of the money, she said, because they are not owned by the recreation district.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.