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|Officials plea for support for 'V' tax|
With the prospect of some 3,000 new jobs eventually being created in the region, local officials this week urged Ouachita Parish voters to support a proposed 1.8-mill property tax that will appear on a parish-wide ballot in Saturday's election.
Revenues generated by the property tax would help pay for a $15 million incentives package local officials pledged to lure V-Vehicle Co. to Ouachita Parish.
The cities of Monroe and West Monroe, the Ouachita Parish Police Jury, Ouachita Economic Development Land Corp. and the Interstate-20 Economic Development District agreed to put up the incentives package for V-Vehicle. The company has plans to manufacture fuel-efficient automobiles at the former Guide plant in eastern Ouachita.
Company officials have said V-Vehicle eventually would employ 1,400 people while another 1,800 jobs would be created indirectly.
Monroe City Councilman Jay Marx said V-Vehicle was "the goose that laid the golden egg" for Ouachita Parish.
"If we're going to succeed, we have to be part of this," Marx said. "I do not recall another time the city of Monroe, the city of West Monroe and the police jury all got on the same page as quickly and as easily as we did for this proposal."
"This is so important to have as we move forward," Marx continued. "There are those who continue to say we should have done this as a sales tax. Maybe they are right, but we didn't have time. This was something that had to be put together quickly."
Marx said the benefits of having V-Vehicle located in northeastern Louisiana were too great to pass up.
"We now have the opportunity to bring our kids and our grandkids back home," he said. "This is it. This is the goose that laid the golden egg. When you go to the poll on Saturday, I hope you will vote for it. When you pull that lever, you will be voting to bring families back home, and making our entire community stronger."
Police jury president Shane Smiley admitted that the past six months had been fast and furious but very exciting as well.
"We worked hard to get V-Vehicle here," Smiley said. "They picked us; we did not pick them. We were chosen out of 400 sites in 10 states. They narrowed it down to three - Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama - and we rose to the top."
"With 1,400 direct jobs and 1,800 indirect jobs, that's putting a lot of people back to work in Ouachita Parish," Smiley said.
Smiley pointed out that V-Vehicle was a start up company. Coca-Cola and CenturyLink were start-up companies at one time, too, Smiley said.
"A lot of folks have asked what we see in V-Vehicle," Smiley continued. "I would like to think that in the future, V-Vehicle will be a part of us like so many of our other companies and become synonymous with Ouachita Parish.
"The local commitment is not that great compared to the $350 million capital investment. With the payroll it will have and the future it has before it, I think it will far outweigh the local commitment. I stand behind our commitment to V-Vehicle. I think we're betting on a winner."
West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris said he learned great deal about V-Vehicle over the past several months.
"It's very impressive," Norris said.
"I made a business decision," Norris said, referring to his decision to participate in the local incentives package. "It was not a decision based on hope or a promise. It was a business decision based on the information I had that this was the right thing for us to do."
"This is the way we have to finance this project," Norris explained. "It was done, I think, in a very good way. We did not have the opportunity to use the sales tax. It's not that it might have been better, we just couldn't do it."
Local governments will sell limited tax bonds to generate the money that is needed to meet the pledge local governments made to V-Vehicle. Revenues generated by the proposed property tax would pay off the debt created by the bond sale.
Bill Boles of the Boles Law Firm in Monroe and Grant Schlueter of Foley and Judell in New Orleans will handle the bond sale for the police jury, which placed the property tax proposition on the ballot. The police jury placed the measure on the ballot because it is the only governing body that has the authority to levy a tax parish-wide.
If V-Vehicle doesn't meet specific performance obligations, the police jury and the cities are not obligated to pay their share of the incentives package. If that occurs, a resolution approved by the police jury dictates that tax revenues generated by the property tax be returned to parish taxpayers.
"The public is as well protected as they possibly can be," Norris said.
He said if the tax passes, the money can only be used to pay off the limited bonds. When the bonds are paid off, the tax goes away.
"I think we went the right way to protect the public and make the cost as low as it possibly could be," Norris said. "Our part is pretty low considering what the total impact will be. This was a business decision and I think it was the right decision.
Besides the local incentives package, the state committed some $134 million in incentives for V-Vehicle.
The proposed property tax the police jury is asking voters to approve cannot be assessed for more than 15 years. Revenues generated by the tax will cover the $11.5 million financial obligation the two cities and the police jury pledged. OEDC Land Corp and the I-20 Economic Development District are responsible for the remaining balance of the local incentives package.
Once the local obligation is fulfilled, the property tax must be canceled. That is expected to occur within eieht years.