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|Opposition to tax surfaces|
Monroe homeowner Mike Roberts is not concerned with the $40 a proposed property tax to aid Vehicle Co. will cost him, but he said he won't support the proposal at the polls because he believes the tax is unfair.
The proposed property tax Roberts spoke of is a 1.8-mill offering to help pay for a $15 million incentives package local officials pledge to help lure V-Vehicle Co. to Ouachita Parish. Voters parish-wide will decide Saturday whether to levy the tax, which can be levied for no more than 15 years.
V-Vehicle announced earlier this year it would take over the former Guide plant in eastern Ouachita to manufacture fuel-efficient automobiles. The company says it eventually will employ 1,400 people at the plant while another 1,800 jobs will be created indirectly.
"I don't want to bring 1,400 jobs if it's going to cost us 2,000 jobs because our biggest employers are going to cut payrolls to make up the increased tax," said Roberts, who owns a home in Monroe's Garden District.
Roberts believes the potential for lost jobs is "very real."
At least one area employer agreed.
Reggie MacDaniels operates 14 retail grocery stores throughout the area, including four stores in Ouachita Parish.
If the tax passes, MacDaniels said he will have "little choice" in how to pay for it.
"We'll have to recoup that somewhere, every retailer will," said MacDaniels, who operates Mac's Foods. "Prices will either go up generally or people will get laid off."
Roberts questioned the benefits of the tax increase if it costs jobs. He also took issue with the position of one economic development official who has supported the tax.
In reports published earlier this week, Monroe Chamber of Commerce President Sue Nicholson said voters should pass the tax because a failure to do so would send the wrong message to businesses looking at northeastern Louisiana as a potential home.
"I don't think we send the wrong message to businesses," Roberts said. "If we reject the tax, we're sending a message to government that it's the wrong kind of tax."
Roberts said he attended a public forum on the tax, hosted by the Garden District Neighborhood Alliance at Ouachita Parish Public Library last week.
At that meeting, Roberts said he asked public officials a question that, according to Roberts, they were unwilling to answer.
"Is there another way (to finance the incentives package?" Roberts said. "This is their first attempt, but they have a Plan B they're not telling us about."
West Monroe resident Ron Downing offered a different opinion on the proposed 1.8-mill property tax.
Downing said he supports the property tax proposal because it will lead to new jobs and economic growth in the area.
"If someone wants to come in here and open a new business, I personally think they should have to do it with their own money," said Downing, who operates a floral shop in West Monroe. "But today's political climate seems to think differently and, if that's what it's going to take to get the jobs here, then I'm for it."
Downing said he will pay increased property taxes twice, once at his home and once on his business. But the possibility of a tax increase did not deter his support.
"With the Homestead Exemption the way it is, I don't think it's going to impact my home as much as it is my business," Downing said. "Even with what I'm paying through my business, though, I think with the economic impact of people working in the area will offset the cost."
Downing also weighed another factor in his decision to support the business. His family has lived in West Monroe for nine generations and he considered the tax an investment in his family's future.
"I don't think we're moving away any time soon and my children will certainly benefit from this new company," Downing said.
Back in Monroe, at least one elected official did not share Downing's enthusiasm.
Ruth Ulrich said she was "fundamentally against raising any more taxes."
"We are taxed enough," said Ulrich, a Republican National Committeewoman from Louisiana.
Ulrich said she supports economic development efforts, but she pointed out the taxpayer has already ponied up a significant contribution.
"Economic development is important, but they've used our tax money to bring them in at the state level," Ulrich said. "All of the incentives they've offered are tax dollars."
Ulrich said she would prefer to see governments working to build a business-friendly tax environment instead of increasing taxes to pay for big incentive packages.
"We need to lower taxes on all our smaller businesses, so they can make more money here," Ulrich said.
"It's kind of like the Field of Dreams," Ulrich added.
Ulrich said creating a good environment would benefit all taxpayers, homeowners and businesses alike. A positive business environment could mean more jobs, increased property values and eventually, lower taxes for everyone.
For MacDaniels, the proposed tax could have a big impact on businesses.
"We're already in a horrible economy, but we don't have much choice," MacDaniels said. "You either raise prices or cut back on employment or advertising or cut back on something."