OUR OPINION: Millage vote could doom LDEC’s?future

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

After three-plus years of hemming and hawing, the voters of Ascension Parish will finally have the opportunity to decide the fate of the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.

The Parish Council voted Tuesday to place a 3-mill property tax issue on the parishwide Nov. 4 ballot to fund the purchase and upgrade of the St. Landry Road complex. The vote came after the council’s Finance Committee had recommended a 1/8-cent sales tax plan to do the same thing.

Tuesday’s decision may have brought the ownership status closer to resolution, but it still leaves many questions as to its chances of the plan’s success.

In a poll issued last month by Parish President Tommy Martinez, the vote was nearly split down the middle in terms of wanting the parish to own the center. While the poll only quizzed a fraction of the parish’s voting base, those figures could always be different when voters hit the polls Nov. 4. Plus, the same poll showed that an overwhelming majority think that road conditions are the biggest issue in the parish. Many are of the opinion that the parish should fix its substandard roads first before focusing on entertainment.

In speaking on the proposed 1/8-cent sales tax plan, Parish Councilman Todd Lambert said he felt the idea was more fair than a millage because many residents who would be paying more on their property taxes will never step foot on the center’s grounds, so why make them pay for it? One can also argue that  even those who never use it will benefit.

Lambert also said that his figures show the sales tax bringing in more revenue than the millage. His contention is that under a millage, only parish property owners would contribute to the cost. With a sales tax, anyone who purchases items in the parish would be putting into the kitty, including those attending events at the expo center.

Then there is the question of who truly benefits from the center. Even though it is technically located on unincorporated parish land, the closest businesses to it – Tanger Outlet Center and Cabela’s – are all within the City of Gonzales’ borders. But if the center’s ownership outlook is solidified, could bigger events be booked that could bring even more revenue not only for Gonzales, but the parish as well?

Also, what if this tax proposal fails??Will taxpayers be willing to fork over more in their property taxes to fund the purchase??Even though property taxes in Ascension and Louisiana are lower than other states, there are many who simply will not want to pass another tax, whether it be sales or property. The lease-purchase agreement does not expire until July 2009, so the parish might have some wiggle room to try another proposal before then.

We believe that the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center is a valuable asset to Ascension Parish. It gives children who are actively involved in the 4-H and ag events a place to hold their activities. It also offers the parish a venue to hold other larger-scale events and has the potential to hold ever more with its open acreage. However, all of that potential is meaningless if the parish does not own the site.

We also believe the parish should own the center, as long as it is financially feasible to do so. The center was not created to be a money maker, but it also cannot serve as a money pit any longer. Installing a permanent funding mechanism to sustain the center is the first step in a positive direction. But we also feel that a property tax will have a tougher time passing the muster of the parish electorate than a sales tax, and some people know this.

So is using a millage to purchase the center the right decision or, as some believe, an indirect sabotage attempt for the parish to get out of the deal and save face?

Either way, someone will get their wish. The question is, who will that someone be?