American Press

Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Southwest Louisiana ,

Area officials, lawmakers balk at bills benefiting camp in Calcasieu Parish

Last Modified: Friday, May 19, 2017 8:50 AM

By Jim Beam / American Press

BATON ROUGE — Government agencies, tourism officials and Southwest Louisiana legislators are expressing serious concerns about legislation designed to exempt a worker village in Calcasieu Parish from having to pay local and state hotel-motel taxes.

Senate Bill 244, by Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, and House Bill 386, by Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, are the measures in question. Carter’s bill got out of committee and is awaiting debate in the full Senate. Broadwater’s measure hasn’t been heard by the House Ways and Means Committee.

Carter returned his bill to the calendar Wednesday after Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, told Carter about local concerns, Johns said. Broadwater’s bill will go nowhere because there isn’t time to get it through the legislative process before the session ends on June 8.

Like Johns, Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, and Reps. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles; Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur; Stephen Dwight, R-Moss Bluff; and A.B. Franklin, D-Lake Charles, said they oppose the legislation.

Danahay said, “I will oppose anything that takes a dime out of Calcasieu Parish.”

Southland Executive Airport in Carlyss leased the property where the residential facility is located to First Flight Holdings. It then constructed and installed the worker village.

Current law imposes a state sales tax of 5 percent (down to 4 percent on July 1, 2018) on the furnishing of sleeping rooms, cottages or cabins by hotels. Proceeds from the tax go into the state general fund and to 93 statutory dedications for local tourism and economic development entities.

In Calcasieu Parish some of the money is used to pay off bonds sold to finance construction.

Johns said dedications from the tax go to the School Board, Police Jury, Sheriff’s Office, the Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau, the West-Cal Arena, McNeese State University, Sowela Technical Community College and the Lake Charles Civic Center.

Resolutions and letters from most of those agencies express their concerns about the possible effects if the legislation were approved.

Russell “Rusty” Stutes Jr., a Lake Charles attorney who does legal work for the Police Jury and School Board, and Mark McMurry, a consultant for the visitors bureau, said they were surprised a bill affecting one locality could get this far in the face of local opposition. It indicates someone is playing political games, they said.

Mancuso in a letter said, “The creation of these (worker) camps will undoubtedly require additional law enforcement services. ... It seems unfair to exempt those who benefit financially from the camps from paying their fair share of the taxes that will be used to provide a law enforcement response to the problems the camps will likely cause.”

Bryan Beam, Calcasieu Parish administrator, expressed the Police Jury’s concerns in a letter. The bills, he said, “would set a bad precedent and eliminate a critical and existing revenue stream that provides a diverse set of services and amenities to Calcasieu Parish.”

School Superintendent Karl Bruchhaus said, “Temporary housing may become more prevalent in the parish as additional projects begin with as many as 12,000 beds, so it is very important that we set a standard, putting them on an even playing field with all of our hotels/motels here that have invested, knowing that they would be subject to our taxes.”

The visitor’s bureau in a resolution said the bills “set a horrible precedent and would exempt anyone where an employer is paying the bill from the obligation of occupancy and sales taxes when staying at any hotel.”

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