St. John officials want clearer A.G. ruling

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 9, 2008


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE – St. John Parish officials are not quitting in their attempts for clarification on a key issue in the Garyville incorporation drive.

The parish has waited for over a week for some kind of answer from the Louisiana attorney general on the matter of whether many industries in the proposed Garyville incorporation boundaries will legally be included as taxable sources for the new town.

But meanwhile, Garyville Incorporation Committee members are moving forward, seeming oblivious anymore to what began as a heated, and contentious issue.

“This industry issue will be sorted out later, but we still believe we will get some tax money from them,” Garyville Committee Chair Geri Baloney said Thursday night, at a town hall meeting to educate the public about the upcoming July 19 vote.

“But for now, this just isn’t an issue for us,’ she said. “This will not be a deal breaker either way. We will go forward with our incorporation efforts, regardless what is decided.”

From the beginning of the announcement that a group of Garyville residents have organized, and submitted a petition to Governor Bobby Jindal, asking for a vote to allow incorporation of Garyville and some surrounding areas, the question about the industries has been a hot one.

At stake is potentially tens of millions of dollars in property and sales tax revenue, all of which currently goes to St. John Parish.

Baloney’s group drew the boundaries for their proposed town, including all industry in the area, including the likes of Cargill, Gramercy Aluminum and Marathon.

However parish officials have contended from the start, and provided documentation they obtained from the industries, which claims to exclude all the industry from being part of the Garyville town.

Even individuals like Marathon Plant Manager Rich Bedell told L’Observateur that his company double checked their paperwork, which was filed over 30 years ago, and drew upon a state law that would exclude them from any future incorporated town.

“We’re neutral on this whole issue of whether the people want to incorporate this town or not,” he said very clearly. “But we are certain that we will be exempt from the town since we have filed the necessary paperwork to be ruled an industrial area, which keeps us from being added to any other tax rolls of a new town.”

Parish officials strongly concur with Bedell, and sent a letter to Louisiana Attorney General “Buddy” Caldwell on April 30, seeking a “reconsideration” of the original decision approving the vote for incorporation, as well as asking the A.G. to determine on his own whether industrial areas claimed by most of the companies are valid. Should that be the case, then state law would, in fact, exclude them from any newly incorporated town.

 In a second opinion letter the A.G. sent to the governor, which recommended allowing the people to vote on incorporation, the A.G. stated “based upon information provided to the governor’s office by the chairwoman of the incorporation committee, the industrial areas contained within the proposed incorporated area do not appear to be have been legally designated as Industrial Areas.”

St. John Parish Attorney Jeff Perilloux continues to vehemently disagree with that ruling, not to mention the fact that the A.G. used Baloney’s information in the recommendation to the governor.

“It’s really troubling to see the governor call this election based on flawed information provided by the attorney general,” Perilloux said. “If this opinion doesn’t change, at least in terms of how it is worded, we would look at legal action.

“Our opposition is not to the election,” Perilloux added. “And the parish will not take legal action to stop the election, rather, to get the wording clarified so the people of Garyville can be properly educated on what they are voting on.”

However, over a week has gone by with no word from the attorney general about the revised recommendation wording, or whether the A.G. will research the industrial designation themselves.

The only comment the state A.G. had for L’Observateur late this week was “we have received the information from Assistant D.A. Perilloux in the Garyville incorporation matter.” Perilloux is also an assistant on St. John D.A. John Crum’s staff, along with serving as parish attorney.

“We are not reconsidering the facts,” Caldwell said. “We are considering new facts presented to us. It could change the result but the original opinion is the same. The petition met the legal requirements.”

Perilloux said that all the parish can do at this point is wait for the next response from Caldwell, and then “weigh their options” about whether they would seek legal action, to at least get clarification in the letter recommending the vote.

“The parish just wants the people educated properly and we believe they have been misled on this issue,” he stated. “We are absolutely sure the industry will be exempt from the new town boundaries.”

Perilloux added that if the industry is excluded from the boundaries, then the petition seeking a vote for incorporation is also invalid since the boundaries submitted will be incorrect, and the reported assessed value of the proposed area will also be incorrect.

Perilloux believes that even if no change in the A.G. ruling comes forth, and if voters in the area approve incorporation, then there could be legal action from certain industries at a later date, should the Garyville town try to file for any of their property or sales tax money.