AG office:  No fiscal  administrator  available

STERLINGTON TOWN Council member Zack Howse, at left, speaks with Town Council member Matt Talbert after taking a vote declaring the town’s intent to reintroduce an ordinance creating an economic development district and levying a 1.5-percent tax within the district.

A fiscal administrator has not taken over management of the town of Sterlington to straighten out its finances because no one is available to take the job, the state Attorney General’s office says.

Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office also indicated it was possible Sterlington’s finances are in such poor shape the town could not afford to pay a fiscal administrator’s salary.

The state Fiscal Review Committee — including the Attorney General’s office and state Legislative Auditor — agreed in February to ask the district court to appoint a fiscal administrator to take over in Sterlington because the town had missed a debt service payment of $100,000 last December. Last week, Sterlington failed to make a complete debt service payment of $589,000.

Sterlington Mayor Caesar Velasquez told The Ouachita Citizen on Monday his administration was seeking to do everything possible to “make Sterlington solvent.”

When asked about a fiscal administrator, Velasquez said, “We will work with any fiscal administrator appointed to help us.”

“There’s no stalling, because we will get a fiscal administrator for a period of time, possibly very short,” Velasquez said.

Monroe attorney Devin Jones, who serves as Sterlington’s legal counsel, also struck a positive note, thanking the Attorney General and Legislative Auditor for being “very courteous.”

“They still have not found someone to be the fiscal administrator,” Jones said. “They’re giving Sterlington the discretion to make the tough decisions to rectify the town’s situation.”

The steps involved in bringing a fiscal administrator to a town require setting aside money to pay the fiscal administrator’s salary and filing a petition at the local district court asking the court to appoint the fiscal administrator.

When asked for comment, the Attorney General’s office indicated it would not “move forward” without considering the best interests of the people of Sterlington.

“The Petition has not been filed to date, but our office is prepared to move forward once we have completed preparations for the trial and have identified an administrator prepared to step into the job,” said Jacques Ambers, state Attorney General Jeff Landry’s press secretary.

“These are complex issues, which include the ability to pay for the services of the administrator.”

Beyond selling some advertising at the Sterlington Sports Complex, the only other proposal to generate revenue that has gained momentum is the creation of an economic development district — and the levying of a 1.5-percent sales tax within the district.

Ordinances creating the economic development district and levying the 1.5-percent sales tax for 18 months failed on a 2-2 vote during the Sterlington Town Council’s meeting last week. Town Council member Zack Howse, who has voiced support for the sales tax measure, was not present for the vote last week.

“Voting ‘no’ then ‘yes’ has kind of killed us,” said Howse, referring to Sterlington’s ability to negotiate with banks expecting debt service payments.

The Town Council called a special meeting Monday night to introduce the economic development district and sales tax ordinances once again. The Town Council is expected to take a final vote on the adoption of the ordinances at its June 25 meeting.

When Velasquez opened up Monday’s meeting for public comment, Sterlington business owner David Smith voiced his opposition to the sales tax measure, arguing it would be detrimental to his business.

Referring to the exemption of certain businesses from the economic development district, Smith said, “Exempting certain businesses isn’t fair.”

“If we are exempting businesses, I want to be one of them,” Smith said. “Most of the people who live here don’t work here. They work in Farmerville and Monroe and they pass countless other stores.”

Howse offered the motion to re-introduce the ordinances.

Town Council member Ron Hill seconded the motion.

Town Council members Howse, Hill, Matt Talbert and Ben Hobson voted in favor of introducing the economic development district and sales tax measures.

Town Council member Brian McCarthy cast the sole vote in opposition.

The failure of the sales tax measure last week means it will be much longer before Sterlington could collect new sales tax revenues — assuming the Town Council approves the new tax on June 25.

“It wouldn’t go into effect until Oct. 1 now,” Howse said.

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