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|Chambers form tax committee|
The Monroe and West Monroe chambers of commerce have created a joint committee to review tax proposals offered by the Ouachita Parish Police Jury, but the details on how the committee will operate have not been ironed out.
Under the proposed structure for the new committee, representatives of the board of directors of the two chambers would meet with representatives of the police jury to gather input on any property tax proposition the police jury was backing. After studying the police jury's offering, the committee would make a recommendation to the two chambers on whether to support it.
Pam Accardo, chairperson of the West Monroe/West Ouachita Chamber of Commerce, said in many instances members of the board of directors of the chambers do not have adequate time to review tax propositions before they are sent to the Secretary of State's office for placement on ballots for voters to decide.
"When that comes about, a lot of times, we're behind the eight ball and don't have much time to look at it," said Accardo.
According to Accardo, the joint committee of the two chambers would focus on police jury tax proposals, but she said the scope of the committee could be expanded as needed, including studying any tax proposition offered by any governing body in the parish.
"(The Police Jury) is the one we dealt with most recently," said Accardo. "We just felt like that would be the best place to start."
Monroe Chamber of Commerce President Sue Nicholson said one of the issues that concerns the Monroe chamber is the way taxes are proposed and placed on a ballot.
Nicholson said many times taxes are proposed at one meeting, adopted at another meeting two weeks later and forwarded to the Secretary of State to be placed on a ballot.
That gives both chambers only two weeks to review a proposed tax and to give any input on a proposed tax, which Nicholson said created a strain on the process.
"That's not really enough time to examine them and have input," Nicholson said.
Ouachita Parish Police Jury President Walt Caldwell said he believed room for improving the process does exist.
"There is always room for improvement, whether it be in the realm of communication or timing," Caldwell said. "But usually, that's on both sides."
Caldwell questioned precisely what the chamber committee hoped to accomplish that wasn't already being conducted.
"I have always done the best I could not only to inform the chambers but also to involve them," Caldwell said. "I'm not sure at this point, short of delegating my elected responsibility, what else we can do."
Caldwell pointed to a number of police jury advisory committees that are staffed by citizens, including a number of individuals representing both chambers of commerce.
Caldwell noted that, while timing issues have plagued the organizations in the past, he welcomed any new means by which the various bodies could work together.
"Nonetheless, that shouldn't detract from the commitment I made in the past to have them involved to the extent of appointing members of the chambers of commerce to sit on tax advisory committees to review and help us craft what it actually is we put before the public," Caldwell said.
A recently approved mosquito abatement tax was one tax that was proposed by an advisory board that included representatives from the local business community, Caldwell said.
Though both chambers of commerce publicly opposed the mosquito abatement tax, parish voters approved the tax by a comfortable margin.
Accardo said she believed members of her board had not been given adequate time to examine all of the issues the tax concerned. Had the West Monroe chamber had more time to study the tax, it might have viewed the tax differently, according to Accardo.
"If we could have had the information beforehand and reviewed it, then maybe we could have looked at ways to support it," Accardo said.
Accardo pointed out it was not the job of the chambers of commerce to tell individuals how to vote on issues.
"Just because we recommend one way or the other does not mean people are going to vote that way," Accardo said. "We believe it's our responsibility to represent the business community in those situations."
The Monroe chamber is of the same opinion, Nicholson said.
"What we're saying is these bodies are probably aware well before that time that these taxes are coming up and are going to be discussed," Nicholson said.
Nicholson hopes the newly formed tax committee would help address time-frame issues.
"When we look at these property taxes, the business community pays approximately 85 percent of the property taxes in Ouachita Parish," Nicholson said. "We are not anti-tax, we just want to make sure the taxes are used effectively and efficiently and when a tax increase is proposed, to make sure it is needed."
That input requires more than two weeks notice, she said.
Caldwell said he hoped the newly formed committee would provide the chambers with the information they needed to act in a more timely fashion.
"I support community involvement in the crafting of taxes and funding mechanisms for government," Caldwell said. "That of course includes representatives from the business community."