Ouachita Parish Police Jury President Shane Smiley says a proposal to levy a 5-mill property tax for 30 years to benefit the University of Louisiana-Monroe has generated an “overwhelming amount of negative feedback.”
A university official described some of the response to ULM’s tax proposal as “mistaken.”
Questions about the tax proposal have lingered ahead of the Police Jury’s meeting next Tuesday night when the jury is expected to vote on whether to add the tax proposal to the ballot during a special election this spring.
“Speaking from my experience and conversations with other police jurors, we’ve had an overwhelming amount of negative feedback to this proposed millage,” Smiley said. “There’s been very little positive response given to the police jurors.”
“We continue to contemplate what is the best thing to do,” he added.
ULM officials provided The Ouachita Citizen with a copy of a plan called “Vision 2031” on Tuesday. The Vision 2031 memorandum established the purpose of the tax and outlined some aspects about how ULM might spend revenues generated by the tax.
As previously described by ULM President Nick Bruno, the proposed tax would be used to improve the university’s facilities and programs in conjunction with the imminent launch of the new Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine on campus.
Hope Young, public relations director at ULM, said the university believed the VCOM medical school would draw more students, though specific enrollment estimates would remain unknown until the medical school opened.
“With the medical school being here in northeast Louisiana, we would naturally expect more pre-med students coming to the university,” Young said.
“Until that happens, we do not know how many will come. We would certainly hope that our local and regional people interested in medical school would come here.”
ULM’s Vision 2031 plan listed some $55 million in new projects. The Vision 2031 plan marked the first time ULM officials have specified how the university would spend any revenues from the proposed tax.
ULM approached the Police Jury about the tax proposal in December 2018, but no details were released at that time.
When asked about the matter, Young said, “We did not foresee that these details would be demanded, before it was even put on the ballot by the Police Jury.”
Young said some of the public’s opposition to the proposed tax were mistaken. For example, no tax revenues would be used to fund ULM’s athletics program, Young said.
“Some of the opinions expressed have been mistaken, so we needed to release more details to educate people about the purpose of this tax,” Young said.
Young also pointed out that the tax was not a “Police Jury tax,” though the Police Jury would levy the tax on behalf of the university.
Some objections to the proposed tax centered on the length of the tax’s term as compared to other taxes levied by the Police Jury, according to Smiley.
“I’m always going to support the university and I want it to thrive,” Smiley said. “A lot of people have complained about the 30-year term. The Police Jury does not have any millage for such a long term. We only have four taxes above 5 mills, and the term for those four taxes is only 10 years.”
ULM’s Vision 2031 memorandum describes the goal of the proposed tax as to “add and improve programs, research, and facilities that will attract students and faculty, as well as business partnerships that will stimulate the economy of Ouachita Parish.”
Specifically, any tax revenues would be used to establish the parish as a “premier medical and research community,” with new lab spaces as well as renovations of Caldwell and Sugar Halls ($12.5 million); an expansion of the Fant-Ewing Coliseum to include spaces for ULM’s nine clinics ($32 million); a renovation of Brown Auditorium ($10 million); and the awarding of some $750,000 in student scholarships and faculty research grants each year, according to ULM’s Vision 2031 memorandum.
“The tax would be paid by Ouachita Parish citizens, so the scholarships would be given to taxpayers’ children,” Young said. “Our money goes to Baton Rouge and we never see it again, but with this tax, they will see the fruits of the tax in their community.”