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|OPPJ balks at recreation district plan|
The West Ouachita Recreation District's plan to possibly seek public financing to pay for recreational activities in western Ouachita Parish stumbled Monday when the police jury balked at supporting the recreation district's efforts.
In a 3-3 vote, the police jury failed to go on record in support of legislation by Rep. Frank Hoffmann. Hoffmann's bill would allow the recreation district to ask western Ouachita voters to approve up to a one-third cent sales tax to help pay for the district's activities. Those activities would include operating the recreation district, while it also could include the construction of a recreation complex in western Ouachita.
Hoffmann agreed to introduce the legislation at the upcoming Regular Session of the Legislature if the city of West Monroe and police jury adopted resolutions supporting it.
Police jurors Charles Jackson, Walt Caldwell and Pat Moore voted to allow the recreation district to continue with its efforts. Jurors Mack Calhoun, Dorth Blade and Shane Smiley voted against the resolution.
Currently, state law does not allow a recreation district to be funded by a sales tax. That's why the district asked Hoffmann to sponsor legislation aimed at providing for that option. Other funding options for the recreation district include a property tax.
Either way, western Ouachita voters would vote on whether to levy a sales tax or a property tax to provide funding for the recreation district.
Several members of the recreation district say they are upset the police jury did not approve the resolution to allow the recreation district to pursue a funding source.
Recreation district board member Mark Fenn said, "I am disappointed that the people of west Ouachita Parish now do not even have the opportunity to consider the different (funding) possibilities for recreational activities in our area. I think we can trust the people of west Ouachita to look at this and decide which (funding) method they prefer and how much they want to invest in this. I guess there's some folks on the police jury who do not feel this way."
Fenn said the recreation district's board of directors was not sure what its next step would entail. He said the board would like the community to see its master plan for recreation in western Ouachita, which includes developing 100 acres in west Ouachita into a large recreation complex with an aquatic center, major basketball complex, soccer fields, tennis courts and baseball and softball fields.
"We want our community to see what we're missing out on and maybe that will spur discussion and new ideas on what we should do," Fenn said. "We just wanted the opportunity to present various funding mechanisms to the community and let them decide which is best.
"That (sales tax option) is a logical funding mechanism that's used in other states," Fenn continued. "Now, they've reduced the opportunity to make this a reality.
"We were not asking for them to endorse a tax. None of us are excited about a tax, but the truth is there are times when it is appropriate to invest in our community for us to move forward."
Fenn said a study commissioned several years ago by the recreation district, with money from the police jury and city of West Monroe, included many groups that would utilize the district's facilities.
"That study was based on input from a large number of people who care for our community," Fenn said.
Calhoun, who was the most vocal opponent of the resolution among members of the police jury, said quite a few people in his district oppose the measure.
"We've got road problems … all kinds of problems in our parish, and the people I represent cannot afford another tax," Calhoun said. "We can't afford any more taxes."
"Some can't even afford food," Calhoun continued. "When is this going to stop? This will hurt people."
Caldwell, the police jury's president, said he understood Calhoun's objections, adding that he made valid points.
Caldwell, though, said he supported the resolution since the recreation district was not asking for a tax at this time. Instead, Caldwell said, the recreation district was asking for the option to pursue a tax at a future date.
Jackson, who represents western Ouachita as well on the police jury, agreed to support the district's request, but he said more information on the district's plans was needed before he would support putting a tax on the ballot.