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|Calhoun calls out police jurors|
Ouachita Parish police juror Mack Calhoun says he will oppose any expenditure of public funds and any proposed tax for West Ouachita Recreation District as long as he serves on the police jury.
The recreation district, which includes part of Calhoun's district, is a political subdivision created by the police jury. Last month, the police jury signed off on appropriating $4,000 to the recreation district to update a five-year-old study, which outlines plans to improve recreational activities in western Ouachita. The money the police jury agreed to spend will be spent only if the recreation district can secure matching funds to pay for updating its long-range plan.
When the police jury approved the $4,000 expenditure for the recreation district, Calhoun lobbied to remove the funding from the police jury's 2009-10 fiscal year budget. His efforts came up short.
Calhoun reiterated his opposition to the recreation district Monday night at the police jury's regular meeting. He spoke emphatically and emotionally at times, standing and addressing some police jurors personally.
"I promise you this won't pass," Calhoun said, referring to an on-again, off-again proposal to ask voters in western Ouachita to approve a tax to fund the recreation district.
"We don't want it," Calhoun said. "We don't want to pay the taxes. This will run people out of the parish. We're not in the business to run people out of this parish. We're in the business to help people.
"I don't come into any of your districts and tell you what to do. I have always supported you all, and I'll tell you, I am going to look very hard at each one of you and what you all are doing.
"Don't shove this down my throat. That's what you've done. I don't appreciate it. I don't like it. I have never voted against somebody who didn't want something (in their district). I have never voted to push it. Never in nine years, and I never will.
"I love a good fight, but you four people make me want to puke," Calhoun told police jurors Charles Jackson, Shane Smiley, Pat Moore and Walt Caldwell.
"I hear loud and clear that Mr. Calhoun does not want this in his district," Jackson said. "I will repeat that I am more than willing to vote in favor of redrawing the lines of the (recreation) district to remove District B (Calhoun's district) from it."
"Right now it includes the entire west side (western Ouachita Parish), but if District B doesn't want to be in it, that's no skin off my nose," said Jackson, who represents part of western Ouachita Parish as well.
Jackson expects the recreation district will revise its master plan and report back to the police jury at a later date.
"Before they bring it back to this body, I hope they will work throughout the community to access whether or not the community is willing to entertain such an idea," Jackson said, referring to a tax proposition for the recreation district.
Caldwell clarified the matter.
"They want to update that plan so they can go to the voters and ask them if they want to do this or not," Caldwell said. "I am of the opinion that this does need to go before the people. We can sit here and fight about it all night and draw blood all night. But it's ultimately something that the people of western Ouachita Parish will have to answer.
"Do they want it? Do they want it this kind of way? Do they want that kind of tax? How do they want it? Do you want it at all? And if you don't want it, let's shut the thing down and go home.
"I know a number of people will not vote for it, but I know a number of people will vote for it because they see it as a quality of life issue."
Moore said discussions have surfaced about forming a similar recreation district in southern Ouachita Parish.
"This is going to come up again, and they are probably going to have to have a study, and they'll have to come before the jury," Moore said of efforts in southern Ouachita. "In my district there's all kinds of talk about how we need something. They're knocking on the door right now wanting something like this. If it's going to come up, let the people vote on it."
Calhoun has been the most vocal opponent of West Ouachita Recreation District's plans since the group first brought a proposal to the police jury last spring.
In March 2008 the police jury balked at allowing the recreation district to pursue efforts to change state law dealing with how recreation districts are funded.
Current state law does not allow recreation districts to be funded by a sales tax. Rep. Frank Hoffmann agreed last year to introduce legislation to alter the law only if the city of West Monroe and the police jury agreed to support the legislation.
The city supported Hoffmann's bill while the police jury opposed it.
The recreation district wanted the option to ask western Ouachita voters to approve up to a one-cent sales tax to help pay for the district's activities. Current law states recreation districts must use property taxes and ad valorem taxes for operational expenses.
The recreation district's master plan calls for developing 100 acres in western Ouachita for a large recreation complex with aquatic center, major basketball complex, soccer fields, tennis courts and baseball and softball fields.
West Ouachita Recreation District board members have said a new recreation complex would improve the quality of life for western Ouachita residents. The improved quality of life would help economic development efforts as well, according to the recreation district.
Calhoun maintains people in western Ouachita Parish cannot afford another tax. He believes the recreation district will eventually ask for a tax to proceed with its master plan.
He also pointed to other privately-operated recreational facilities that were created successfully without the need for a tax.