OUR OPINION: LDEC issue comes to a head tonight

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

Tonight’s Parish Council meeting in Gonzales could spell the fate of the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center and the future of Ascension Parish’s event-hosting.

The council will have on its agenda a recommendation from its Finance Committee - which is the full council anyway - to place a 1/8-cent sales tax on the Nov. 4 ballot for the voters of Ascension Parish.

The committee voted to go with the 1/8-cent sales tax over a proposal from Parish President Tommy Martinez for a 3-mill property tax.

Both plans look to fund the parish’s purchase of the center at $7.5 million and the estimated $12 million to upgrade the facility. This includes enclosing the main arena and adding climate control equipment. This would make the building capable of holding more events and possibly drawing more takers.

In discussing the 1/8-cent plan, Councilman Todd Lambert said he felt the idea was more fair to parish residents. He pointed out that many will never even set foot on the grounds of Lamar-Dixon, so why should they be required to pay for it? This is a good point. Why be taxed for something that you may possibly never ever use in your lifetime?

During Thursday’s meeting, SMG Regional Vice President Doug Thornton made a presentation documenting SMG’s management history with the expo center. He showed that the center’s annual loss has declined since the parish took over control of the center and hired SMG to manage it. Thorton even said that centers such as Lamar-Dixon are not created to turn a profit, but could if the proper situation were to occur. What that situation may be is unclear.

While many have taken their respective sides in this ongoing battle, what Martinez said Thursday holds true. The issue needs to come to a conclusion, one way or another. Both Martinez and SMG officials have said that the uncertainty of the center’s future has kept it from signing numerous tenants to long-term deals, and who can blame the promoters? Would you want to invest in a company that didn’t know who its owners were  going to be in a year, or if it will even be open? Can parish voters continue to have the parish put their tax dollars into a structure that is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually? Should the parish just get out of the deal altogether and let someone else handle it?

We know the problem. We know the possible solutions. This time, parish residents will be the deciding factor as to where we go from here.