Council delays vote to change license taxes

Published 8:33 am Wednesday, December 30, 2015

After much debate and three public participation meetings, the Washington Parish Council voted 4-3 Monday night to indefinitely postpone an ordinance that sought to change the parish’s occupational license tax on Washington Parish businesses located outside of any municipal boundaries.

District 5 Councilman Pete Thomas made a motion to delay the vote. District 3 Councilman Chuck Nassauer, District 4 Councilman Andre Johnson and District 6 Councilman Greg Route all voted to bring the ordinance to a vote, but were out-numbered. Nassauer, Johnson and Route are all outgoing council members.

The current occupational license tax for Washington Parish is $25, which is below the state average. According to the proposed ordinance, the license fee would be based on the dollar volume of business transacted per year, and the type of business on which the occupational license tax is applicable.

During the public participation segment concerning the ordinance, Kendrick Stewart, director of systems and case management for Blue Cross, asked where the money would go and for what departments.

“I’m not sure what the cost is per application. We’ve got a lot of businesses that are barely afloat now,” Stewart said. “A couple hundred dollars means if the lights are to stay on or not. There needs to be more transparency on where the money will go.”

Washington Parish Finance Director Donna Graham said the ordinance clearly states that the funds would be accounted for in the General Fund. Revenues in the General Fund are used to fund expenditures by statute required to be funded by parish government, such as Clerk of Court, Registrar of Voters, Coroner, Justices of the Peace, constables, the LSU AgCenter and the proposed animal shelter.

“The General Fund has to pay for several departments. This is just one of the tools available to us,” Graham said. “We’re looking at an estimate of $100,000 that would be generated by the proposed change to the Occupational License Ordinance.”

Graham said 96 businesses out of an estimated 400 to 500 businesses paid the occupational tax last year.

Businessman Kenneth Martin said the proposed tax structure would hurt small-business owners.

“My biggest concern is this tax is not set up for smaller businesses,” Marin said.

Council Chairman Michael Fussell tried to ease Martin’s concern.

“The occupational tax was set up to generate funds. We have to have some kind of funds in the General Fund to support these other agencies,” Fussell said. “If you’ve got a better solution, please bring it to us.”

Retiring District 1 Councilman Ken Wheat, who did not seek re-election, asked the next council to keep the occupational tax in the forefront.

“I ask that the new councilmen don’t allow the tax to fall by the wayside. It is very important to this parish,” Wheat said. “The pro reasons for the tax are legitimate. You’re going to struggle with mandated expenses. That’s my observation. The biggest challenge you’ll find yourself up against are mandated expenses.

“It is a huge challenge, a mind-boggling challenge. There is no legal choice but to pay it.”

Perry Talley, who was elected to replace Wheat, requested the body to postpone the vote so he and the other four newly elected council members could learn more details.

“It just doesn’t seem the public gets involved on anything until it affects their pocketbook,” Fussell said.

Outgoing council members also include District 7 Councilman Aubrey Posey. During Monday’s meeting, each departing councilman gave parting thoughts.

In other business, the council adopted:

• A resolution that established payment standards as required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the Washington Parish Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, effective Jan. 1, 2016.

• A resolution that authorized applying with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development for a grant under the Non-Urbanized Area Formula Program and/or Discretionary Capital Fund.

• A resolution authorizing Parish President Richard Thomas to execute agreements in the application for funding of the Washington Parish Public Assistance Cost Share, under the Community Block Grant-Infrastructure Program and certifying the “Urgent need” policy is being met.

• A resolution requesting the Parish State Legislative Delegation draft and support the local Communications District to provide for the assessment of a fixed rate service charge for wireless commercial mobile radio service connections.