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|OPSB joins city, police jury in tax dispute with Graphic Packaging|
The Ouachita Parish School Board will acquire special legal counsel to handle a dispute with Graphic Packaging over unpaid sales taxes.
The city of Monroe is the tax-collecting body for the Ouachita Parish Police Jury and the parish school board. The arrangement was agreed upon several years ago by the tax recipient bodies.
A recent audit by the city showed Graphic Packaging had a deficiency in tax payments of roughly $1.9 million from 2000 to 2005. With interest and the assessed penalties, the total amount owed is $3.4 million, according to school board attorney Elmer Noah.
The school board on Tuesday agreed to enter into a cooperative endeavor agreement with the police jury, Monroe City Schools and a parish fire protection district to hire legal counsel that specializes in tax matters.
The police jury on Monday voted to enter into the cooperative endeavor agreement during its regular meeting.
The school board has been in discussion with the Taylor, Porter, Brooks & Phillips law firm in Baton Rouge about the matter.
Graphic Packaging already has hired special counsel, Noah said.
"Graphic Packaging was put on notice, and Graphic has filed a formal letter of protest," Noah said. "They do not agree that they owe that much money. They've also filed a formal protest in state district court."
"Several years ago we went through the same procedure with Voith Paper in West Monroe, and this is along the same lines," Noah added.
"It's my opinion, and I believe the opinion of legal counsel for the police jury and city, that in order to resolve this matter and be fair for all parties, we join in with the city and police jury and retain special counsel to represent the tax recipient bodies," Noah explained.
The city of Monroe would represent the tax recipient bodies in the matter. The legal firm hired as special counsel would be co-counsel with city attorney Nanci Summersgill.
"Because of the amount of money involved, we should pursue this, and hopefully we can work it out without the necessity of litigation," Noah continued. "It's our desire to work out some compromise. That's usually the way these things work out.
"The dispute is how much Graphic owes for this tax period. They have acknowledged that they probably do owe a significant portion of this, but they have not acknowledged that they owe $3.4 million."
Noah said the deficiency was first found after Graphic Packaging filed a request for reimbursement of paid taxes because the company thought there had been an overpayment.
"The city of Monroe conducted an audit, and according to the city, instead of owing Graphic money, it was the other way around," Noah said. "Graphic owed money to the public bodies."
Ouachita Parish Schools is the largest of the tax recipient bodies involved in the dispute. The school board would receive the largest amount in any settlement reached between Graphic Packaging.