MC voters pass road sales tax of 0.3 percent

From Staff and Wire Reports

Although voter turnout was low, Morgan City voters easily passed a 12-year, 0.3 cent sales tax that will be used to fund nearly $4 million in road improvements in the city.

While only 1,075 votes were cast in Morgan City (13.9 percent of the city’s 7,754 registered voters), 693 (64.47 percent) were cast in favor of the tax, while the other 382 (35.53 percent) were opposed to the measure.

“We’re very pleased with the vote of confidence the public gave us on the plan,” Matte said this morning. “We are excited to be able to implement it.”

The estimated cost for the work is about $3.96 million, according to an economic feasibility study the City Council commissioned Miller Engineers in Franklin to prepare.

Matte said the city anticipates being able to issue bonds as early as mid-February and have the money in hand at the same time.

In the meantime, the city will begin preparing bid specifications and should have those ready for bid advertisements in mid-February.

“Of course that’s going to be dependent on the type of projects (and) weather,” Matte said.

Matte said he expects to have work contracted or “significant” work under way in the first quarter of next year.

While all of the streets are of utmost priority, Matte said the ones that can be started the quickest will be the ones that will be undertaken first.

Among those that Matte said the city should be able to start first are the concrete jobs, which involve the repair work on Sixth Street, David Drive, Veterans Boulevard and Youngs Road.

For consumers, collections of the tax — limited to Morgan City — will be instituted Jan. 1.

According to city figures, a 0.3 percent tax equates to 3 cents of tax for every $10 spent in Morgan City and 30 cents in taxes per $100 spent here.

With a 0.3 percent collection, the city expects to generate 2012 collections of $816,000 in sales taxes as well as no more than $487,000 per year in debt service (at an interest rate of 4 percent) for the next 10 years. Using those figures, city officials have determined that they would have, on average, $413,900 per year to spend on roads. That figure includes the road royalty funding allotment the city receives from the parish.

In the other proposition local voters — like the rest of the state — soundly supported a constitutional ban on real estate transfer taxes, making Louisiana the fourth state in the nation with such a prohibition.

Locally, of the 3,638 people who cast votes in St. Mary, 3,339 voted in favor of prohibiting the new fees.

The voter turnout in St. Mary Parish was 10.9 percent of the 33,286 total voters.

In St. Martin, 5,546 of the 7,185 voted in favor of prohibiting the new fees, while 2,554 of the 3,311 voters in Assumption voted in favor of prohibiting the new fees.

Statewide, of the 590,264 who voted, 476,938 voted in favor of prohibiting the new fees.

The overwhelming support for the prohibition of the new taxes and fees on immovable property means that the state and municipalities will be unable to impose a tax on the sale or transfer of homes and immovable property. New Orleans’ existing tax will be grandfathered in, but can’t be raised.

Louisiana Realtors pushed the constitutional amendment, saying the tax could price some people out of the housing market. Lawmakers unanimously agreed to send the proposal to voters.

Opponents questioned the need for a statewide ban, saying that it was unlikely the tax would get legislative support anyway and that local governments and their voters should be able to decide if such taxes are needed.

Thirty-seven states have real estate transfer taxes.

In other elections, the charter school movement and state education overhaul plans sought by Gov. Bobby Jindal got a boost from the runoff elections for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The stalemate over Louisiana’s next education superintendent appears on track to end, with Jindal’s contender likely to get the post.

In all three BESE runoffs, candidates considered closely aligned with Jindal’s policies — and distant from teacher unions and other traditional public education leadership — won their contests Saturday.

Kira Orange Jones ousted fellow Democrat and incumbent Louella Givens for a New Orleans-based BESE seat. Republican incumbent Chas Roemer was re-elected to his Baton Rouge-based seat, defeating Democrat Donald Songy. And, Democrat Carolyn Hill won an open seat covering an area near Baton Rouge and across part of southeast Louisiana, beating Jim Guillory, an independent.

While Jindal didn’t endorse all three winners directly, the candidates were backed by groups who support charter school expansion, voucher programs and other non-traditional approaches to public education, as the governor does. Jindal issued statements congratulating each winner and saying he looks forward to working with them on BESE.

“We’ve worked hard in Louisiana to improve education, but we have more work to do,” he said, after keeping track of the election results from Oxford, Miss., where he attended the LSU-Ole Miss football game.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars were poured into races that usually attract little attention from either campaign donors or the public.

Jones, Roemer and Hill had the backing of groups that want to continue and expand major changes in education policy that have occurred over the last decade, including state takeovers of failing local schools and greater reliance on independently run charter schools.

They had the backing of the Alliance for Better Classrooms, a Baton Rouge-based political action committee started by politically active businessman Lane Grigsby and the Louisiana Federation for Children, part of a national group that pushes for school vouchers.

In addition, Roemer — the son of former Gov. Buddy Roemer — was endorsed by Jindal.

Jindal called Roemer a “true leader in the education reform movement in Louisiana.”

“Chas knows that in order to reform our education system, we must put students first — not adults. His experience will be critical to ensure that every child in Louisiana has the opportunity to succeed in the classroom,” the governor said in a statement.

Givens, Songy and Guillory were backed by the Coalition for Public Education, a group that includes teacher unions, organizations of school board members and administrators and other education groups that are critical of the loss of local authority over schools and that question the effectiveness of the state education overhaul.

BESE takes a back seat to state lawmakers in setting policy, but the board plays a key role in implementing the laws for more than 680,000 public school students, and it chooses a state superintendent.

Saturday’s results likely will determine whether John White, head of the state-run Recovery School District, is elevated to the superintendent post when the new term begins in January. White is Jindal’s choice to replace Paul Pastorek, who stepped down earlier this year.

The superintendent’s vacancy so far resulted in a stalemate on the 11-member board. Jindal appoints three BESE members, but it takes eight votes to choose a superintendent, and the governor’s been unable to get the supermajority for White.

Several candidates have generally stopped short of making a commitment to vote for or against White, but the ABC-backed candidates and White share common views on policy. A victory by any of the three in Saturday’s races was seen as a likely step toward promoting him to Pastorek’s old job, so getting all three wins seemed almost to ensure White’s move to the superintendent’s post.

Meanwhile, in the Legislature, two of the three former senators seeking to regain old posts they left over the past decade were defeated in those attempts, while former Sen. Greg Tarver of Shreveport is heading back to the job he held for two decades until 2004, after beating incumbent Lydia Jackson. Both are Democrats.

In the House, at least three incumbents were ousted.

Democratic House leader John Bel Edwards celebrated Saturday’s results, saying Democrats will retain the same number of House seats next term that they currently have, despite millions spent by Republican leaders in an aggressive effort to snag more posts. The GOP will hold onto its majority, however.

St. Mary Now & Franklin Banner-Tribune

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Morgan City Daily Review
P.O. Box 948, Morgan City, LA 70381
Phone: 985-384-8370
Fax: 985-384-4255

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