Three ballot items being touted as pro-Calcasieu

John Guidroz

The Chamber Southwest Louisiana is supporting three items on the Nov. 3 ballot. One would lower the existing property tax rates used to manage services for Calcasieu Parish’s two consolidated drainage districts. Another would open the door for legalized sports betting. The third is an incentive to attract industries to the region, while also helping local communities secure money up front for critical needs.

Several local officials gathered at the SEED Center Friday to explain the ballot items. Alberto Galan, with the Calcasieu Police Jury’s office of administrator, said police jurors voted in June 2019 to consolidate the parish’s seven drainage districts to two. The proposition calls for voters in East Calcasieu to consider a 5.75 mill property tax, while voters in West Calcasieu would consider a 4.5 mill property tax. If approved, the tax would be collected in both drainage districts for 10 years, starting Jan. 1, 2022.

Galan said the property tax rates would drop for all residents parishwide under the new millages. The highest existing rate in West Calcasieu is 10 mills for residents in District 2 of Ward 7, while residents in District 9 of Ward 2, located in the East Calcasieu drainage district, currently pay a 14.60 mill property tax.

Galan said the lower property tax rates have come about because of efficiencies created through cost savings in consolidating the districts. The tax will help fund ongoing efforts to maintain and improve drainage throughout Calcasieu Parish. At the same time, existing funding would be used for major capital drainage projects within both drainage districts.

 

Sports betting

The second ballot item deals with legalizing sports betting. Elizabeth McLaughlin, a consultant with the Chamber SWLA, said the ballot item is statewide, but it only moves forward in parishes that have a majority “yes” vote.

McLaughlin said voter approval is the first step in securing sports betting in Louisiana, with the Legislature still having to set a tax rate and regulatory framework that the state Gaming Control Board would oversee.

McLaughlin said legalizing sports betting will generate gaming tax revenue. She said it would be a critical piece of long-term recovery for the gaming, hospitality and tourism industries impacted by COVID-19 shutdowns and hurricanes Laura and Delta. 

Currently, residents engage in illegal sports betting online and travel to other states where sports betting is already legal, such as Mississippi and Arkansas, McLaughlin said. She mentioned a study done by Louisiana Economic Development that mentioned the state is losing roughly $330 million in gaming revenue to Mississippi and Arkansas. McLaughlin said gaming revenue collected in Calcasieu Parish benefits education and critical projects, such as drainage and road improvement.

“Calcasieu is a key gaming community in the state,” she said. “Whether you step into a casino or not, everyone in Calcasieu Parish benefits from this revenue that’s generated and paid by the gaming industry.”

She said a Facebook page will be created on the initiative, called Calcasieu Forward.

 

Industrial incentive

Also on the ballot is a statewide constitutional amendment that would create a PILOT program, or Payment In Lieu of Taxes. If voters approve Amendment 5, governmental taxing agencies, such as the Police Jury, School Board and sheriff, would be able to negotiate with manufacturers and other industries to set up tax payments over a period of time.

George Swift, chamber president/CEO, said the PILOT program would help government agencies get revenue “from day one”  to spend on infrastructure or other critical needs.

“We think it’s very important that we have this incentive so Louisiana can remain competitive,” he said. “Right now, we’ve got about seven prospects that we’re talking to. After two hurricanes, they’re looking extra hard at this area. So, this (program) will give an extra tool to attract industry to our area.”

Sen. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles, helped the amendment get the two-thirds legislative approval so it could be placed on the Nov. 3 ballot. Abraham said the PILOT program does not mean industries get a break in perpetuity.

“This is a payment for a reduction in taxes at a future date,” he said.

Industries already have the Industrial Tax Exemption Program, or ITEP, which allows companies and manufacturers to get tax abatement for several years. Abraham said the ITEP attracts industry to Louisiana, with communities benefiting from the employment and the services provided by the industry. Meanwhile, the PILOT program would help local government get money up front from an industry, with the industry getting a reduction in taxes after the 10-year ITEP ends.

“There’s no forcing of any local government or any industry to make this happen,” Abraham explained. “It’s just if you can agree. So it’s a tool in the tool chest.”

Abraham said the program would allow local government agencies to secure necessary dollars, while helping industry act as “a good corporate citizen.” However, the amendment has its share of opposition, with Together Louisiana starting a campaign against it in early October. Abraham said claims that industries would get a tax break from the PILOT program are false.

“Industry already has the break when they’re here,” he said. “If you want to be against industrial tax exemption, play that argument. But don’t play that argument on this amendment because it has nothing to do with an existing industrial tax exemption.”

Early voting for the Nov. 3 election continues through Oct. 27, excluding Sundays. Votes can be cast from 8 a.m.-7 p.m.A line of voters snakes around the Lake Charles Civic Center Exhibition Hall during the first day of early voting for the Nov. 3 election.

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