Bond proposition lowers taxes, enhances drainage

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 15, 2021

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LAPLACE — Homeowners in St. John the Baptist Parish will see a 10% reduction in their upcoming tax bill. At the same time, all residents will notice sweeping drainage and water improvements.

Parish council members eagerly passed a resolution calling for a special election to be held Oct. 9 for the renewal of special taxes, the rededication of a special tax and the issuance of general obligation bonds. Parish President Jaclyn Hotard said the resolution authorizes the renewal of the parish’s animal control, recreation and road lighting millages, the rededication of the levee protection millage to include all parish stormwater and drainage systems, and the issuance of general obligation bonds for capital improvements, mainly focused on drainage and water.

She said the bond proposition recognizes a 10% decrease in the millage being levied to pay the parish’s general obligation bonds.

Bond attorney Jason Akers of Foley & Judell LLP of New Orleans said the millage rates are dropping from 12.5 mills to 11.25 mills.

Hotard explained the road lighting, animal control and recreation millages are 10-year renewals. She said the bond issue will be designed for implementation of the master comprehensive water improvement plan.

Rededication of the levee protection millage will allow the parish to address drainage comprehensively.

“Now we have the money to do that and are able to do it at reduced millage rates,” she said, adding the parish was able to do so because it has been responsible with its finances. For example, the Parish recently refinanced bonds at an annual savings of almost $300,000 a year.

She stressed the need to educate voters on the fiscal responsibility the parish has exhibited and how services will improve with a lower tax bill.

“I’m really happy about that,” Councilwoman Tyra Duhe-Griffin said. “The residents receive the benefits without our millage going up. It’s a win-win.”

In other action, council members approved a conditional use permit for a pawn shop on Airline Highway in LaPlace. Director of Planning & Zoning Rene Pastorek said the request is not consistent with the interim regulations set forth in a resolution the council adopted in January and does not align with the intent of the Comprehensive Plan.

“The interim regulations are intended to limit the potentially negative impacts of concentrated alternative financial institutions to vulnerable populations and update the parish code in line with other communities,” Pastorek said.

Specifically, he said the interim regulations prohibit pawn shops within 1,000 feet of another existing financial institution, including pay day loans, check cashing establishments and pawn shops.

He said there are five other similar businesses within the 1000-foot radius.

Pastorek also mentioned regulations prohibit such businesses as a pawn shop within 300 feet of a residential property, but the proposed site is within 96 feet of a residential property.

Stewart Smith, managing partner of Pawn Depot, which has five pawn shops sprinkled in Jefferson, Tangipahoa and St. Tammany parishes, said when he bought the property in 2020 the regulation in question was not in place.

“We will be going against our interim regulations,” said Councilwoman Tammy Houston. “If we set the rules, we need to live by them. I have to vote my conscience.”

Councilman Robert Arcuri, who offered the motion to approve the permit, said Pawn Depot would be only the second pawn shop in the area and added the property was divided by railroad tracks. A drainage canal is also located within the 300-foot radius.

Arcuri said the shop would not be making payday loans but collateral loans, which Smith affirmed.

“It’s unfair to classify it as a payday loan; this is strictly a collateral based loan (shop),” he stressed, adding that plans call for construction of a 7,800-square foot building.

Councilman Thomas Malik said he spoke with nearby property owners who voiced no objection to the proposal.

Councilman Lennix Madere noted the difficulty of the situation, saying that council members “expect residents to follow regulations.”

The resolution passed 7-0 with Houston and Madere abstaining.