Lawsuit threatened in School District tax collection contract

Published 12:09 am Saturday, June 24, 2017

LAPLACE — Demetria Carter said she intends to file a lawsuit against the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board in relation to the Board’s recent decision on contracted tax collection.

Board members initially agreed May 11 to contract on a multi-million dollar agreement with Assured Compliance Inc. (ACI) to handle the School District’s sales tax and hotel/motel tax collection.

Carter, who operates Demetria L. Robinson-Carter CPA, also vied for the contract and filed a formal protest, which was denied by the School Board June 15.

Carter said the process in which the School Board awards the contract is not fair, adding a traditional public bid with an award to the lowest qualified responder would be a better use of public funds.

In this case, St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools sent out Requests For Quotations (RFQ) regarding the tax collection contract. Superintendent Kevin George said he tasked seven individuals — some associated with the School District and others independent — to evaluate the RFQs. All seven picked ACI, which led to an administrative recommendation and positive vote from the School Board.

“It was not fair from the on-set, as the Board had no intention of impartially receiving, evaluating and selecting a sales tax/hotel motel tax collections contractor,” Carter said. “As a general rule, I believe that contracts involving the use of public funds should be awarded by bid so as to insure the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars.”

George said Carter’s qualifications appear to meet the standard, adding “when you have a committee that rates, you can only choose one.”

“Of course, Ms. Carter has the right to protest, which she did,” George said. “That was denied and now she also has the right to seek further options, which is totally her choice. We don’t disparage anyone for doing that. That is within her rights and we will deal with it accordingly.”

School Board members voted last week 7-1 to deny Carter’s protest with three members absent from the vote.

Those voting to deny the protest included Charo Holden, Patrick Sanders, Sherry DeFrancesch, Phillip Johnson, Russ Wise, Shawn Wallace and Clarence Triche.

Keith Jones, Nia Mitchell and Gerald Keller were not present and School Board President Albert Burl voted against approving the protest denial.

At the time, Burl said Carter brought up valid points and he doubted it would be the last time School Board members heard about the issue.

Wise said he was satisfied the proper procedures were followed, while acknowledging Carter was well qualified.

ACI has held the contract for more than 10 years. The current contract ends Friday.

School District officials said they are negotiating a new four-year contract.

The base for the current contract for sales tax collection is $598,500 annually, and the contractor can earn an additional $600,000 annually dependent on how much money is collected from audits.

“The sales tax/Hotel tax contract is two-fold: collection and examination,” Carter said. “The collection part is related to monthly sales tax collections reports that are voluntary submitted with approximately 75 percent of those reports received electronically through a third party vendor and 25 percent received manually, either by mail or in-person on a monthly basis by local businesses in St. John Parish. The contract is valued at over a half a million dollars. It is imprudent and fiscally irresponsible for taxpayer dollars to be allocated as they are for this contract. Flags should be raised in the minds of all taxpayers as to why this contract is awarded the way it is and as to why it has been awarded at no bid, for the same amount and to the same firm since its inception in 2004.”