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|Officials refute chambers' claims|
"They should have said we can't come out in opposition and we can't come out in favor of it because we haven't done our job yet."
That's how Dr. Clark Cooper characterized his thoughts after reading comments made by officials from the Monroe and West Monroe chambers of commerce concerning a mosquito abatement tax parish voters approved earlier this year in spite of opposition from the chambers of commerce.
The Ouachita Citizen reported last week the Monroe Chamber of Commerce and the West Monroe/West Ouachita Chamber of Commerce formed a tax study committee to oversee any property tax proposition offered by the Ouachita Parish Police Jury. The chambers formed the committee, in part, because the chambers usually do not have enough time to study a property tax proposal advocated by the police jury before parish voters decide its fate, one chamber official said.
Pam Accardo, chairperson of the board of directors of the West Monroe chamber, pointed to the mosquito abatement tax issue as an example of the chambers not having adequate time to study a tax proposal before it was placed before parish voters.
Accardo also said members of the board of directors at the West Monroe chamber may have felt differently about the mosquito abatement tax had they been given more time to study it.
"If we could have had the information beforehand and reviewed it, then maybe we could have looked at ways to support it," Accardo said.
That's what prompted Cooper to respond.
"We printed it in the paper…actually put an article in the paper," Cooper said. "They (chambers) had at least 90 days to look at that tax."
Cooper serves as chairman of the Ouachita Parish Police Jury's Mosquito Abatement Board. The board was responsible for reviewing and crafting the mosquito abatement tax proposition.
Following voter approval of the mosquito abatement tax, the boards of directors at the chambers of commerce suggested they had not had time to properly consider the tax.
Eventually, that led the chambers of commerce to form the tax study committee. Once the committee completes its study of a property tax proposition it will report its findings to the two chambers of commerce. At that point, the chambers will announce their positions on any property tax offering.
The tax study committee could broaden its scope to include oversight of other governing bodies in the parish. Tax propositions other than property taxes, such as sales taxes, could be reviewed by the committee, too.
The make-up of the tax study committee has not been finalized.
Monroe Chamber of Commerce President Sue Nicholson said the tax study committee was formed so the chambers could more efficiently gather information about any tax proposition offered by the police jury.
"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.
Cooper disagreed with Nicholson's assessment.
According to Cooper, he and several members of the mosquito abatement board met on numerous occasions with representatives from both chambers almost two months in advance of the tax election specifically to give the chambers information about the 1.99-mil mosquito tax.
Cooper pointed out that members of the mosquito board began meeting representatives from the two chambers more than 90 days prior to the election.
"They asked members of our board to come and speak to them," Cooper said. "I sent two to the Monroe chamber and two to the West Monroe chamber."
Cooper also said he went personally to meet with board members of the two chambers on more than one occasion.
"We put it in the newspaper, took it to the police jury and got approval," Cooper said. "And then, when it came down two weeks before the tax, they came down and jumped up in opposition to it."
Instead of not having enough time to study the mosquito abatement tax proposition, Cooper characterized opposition to the tax by the chambers in a different manner.
"They didn't get off their rear and review the thing when it came out in the paper," Cooper said.
West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris said Cole Church and Cooper met him at his request to provide information about the proposed tax.
"They sat down and showed me their numbers and it didn't take long for me to figure out that what they were asking for appeared to be very reasonable," said Norris, who endorsed the tax.
"I had past experience with them and, especially, that board has always been very responsible," Norris said.
Norris applauded the chambers for taking an interest in taxes.
However, Norris said he did not feel he has an obligation to seek approval from the chambers of commerce to ask voters to approve a tax proposition.
"I think any organization that wants to ask for information, I would certainly want to provide it and, if it has something to do with West Monroe, I'd definitely want the chamber's input," Norris said.
"If you don't have adequate information, you certainly ought to ask for it," he added. "But in both those cases, we had adequate information."
Norris also questioned the formation of a joint committee on taxes and said he did not feel a small group of people could adequately reflect the wishes of the membership of the chambers.
"If you use the jail tax and the mosquito abatement tax as an example of the chambers' ability to analyze, I don't think they did a very good job," Norris said.
Besides the mosquito abatement tax issue, Norris was referring to a tax proposal to fund operations at Ouachita Correctional Center, which the chambers opposed as well. The OCC operations tax was approved by parish voters.
Both Cooper and Norris said the chambers of commerce serve a valuable role in the community and provide businesses with a much needed voice.
That voice, however, should be exercised only after the chambers of commerce gather adequate information before taking a position on an issue, Cooper said.
"I've been opposed to a lot of taxes, but I found out what I was talking about before I made a statement," Cooper said.