The Monroe Chamber of Commerce recently questioned whether Monroe’s Downtown Economic Development District, or DEDD, should levy a 3-mill property tax across the city to benefit only the downtown area.
Twelve members of the chamber’s governmental committee met with Larry Bratton July 10 to discuss DEDD’s proposed property tax. Bratton has been a member of DEDD’s board of directors since 2010.
If approved by city voters, DEDD plans to incur $8 million in bonded indebtedness and apply for some $17.2 million in various grant funding. The proposed millage could generate some $1.3 million each year. Conceivably, revenues generated from the 3-mill tax would pay off the bonded indebtedness.
“What we’re pursuing is a list of projects that have been on the books for a long time,” Bratton said. “We want to do a comprehensive series of projects.”
“That’s why the bond issue is $8 million,” Bratton added.
Nearly all the projects proposed by DEDD are lighting and beautification projects. All expenditures would be made at the discretion of DEDD’s board of directors. None of the revenues could be used on projects outside DEDD’s boundaries.
The Monroe City Council is expected to consider whether to call for DEDD’s proposed tax to be added the ballot for the Dec. 8 general election.
for small area?
Sue Nicholson, president of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, asked why businesses across the city should be expected to pay a citywide tax, instead of levying a property tax only within DEDD’s boundaries. Businesses bear the brunt of 86 percent of all property taxes levied across the parish.
Bratton said property taxpayers in downtown Monroe were limited: St. Francis Medical Center, the parish and federal courthouses, and other governmental buildings do not pay property taxes.
“A good portion of downtown is not assessed,” Bratton said. “Even new developments have tax credits. It would take us forever to get revenues.”
Speaking hypothetically, Nicholson likened DEDD’s citywide millage proposal to a request to levy a citywide millage benefiting only the Interstate 20 retail district, including Pecanland Mall.
“What troubles me is that major taxpayers across the city would be paying for improvements to an area that is made up of entities and properties that are exempted or abated,” Nicholson said.
“Why not consider just a tax, levied only within the district?”
Of the top 25 property taxpayers in Monroe only two are located within DEDD’s boundaries.
Kathy Patrick, a Monroe realtor, said she was concerned about the way DEDD presented its proposal, as if CenturyLink and other area employers would leave the area if DEDD did not complete these beautification projects in downtown Monroe.
“I haven’t seen anything like a cost benefit analysis,” Patrick said.
Patrick also questioned whether DEDD’s projects would bring new jobs or companies to the area.
Tim Green, a certified public accountant, offered the suggestion that beautification projects in downtown Monroe could improve quality of life for citizens throughout the city.
“I could see the argument that people and businesses across the city could benefit from these improvements,” Green said.
Though DEDD has outlined some projects, it is unknown how all tax revenues and grant funding would be used.
Paul Hurd, a Monroe attorney, said DEDD’s proposed millage did not appear to have any visible effects on economic development.
“I wish I saw something strategic that would bring in 1,000 people or 500 cars,” Hurd said. “This is a lot of clean-up and spiffying-up. Where’s the bang for the buck for economic development?”
Among the projects listed in DEDD’s “No Slowing Downtown” presentation, DEDD proposed adding more lighting to Louisville Avenue ($1.5 million), crosswalks and lighting to Jackson Street ($700,000), crosswalks and lighting on DeSiard Street to 11th Street ($1.5 million), crosswalks and lighting on Walnut Street from Louisville to DeSiard Street ($550,000), pedestrian crossing at Art Alley ($300,000), bridge lighting ($250,000), area landscaping ($1 million), and downtown security camera network ($500,000) among others.
The major project sought by DEDD entails the construction of an underpass under the railroad, according to Bratton. The project was estimated to cost some $6 million, Bratton said. Nicholson challenged that figure, pointing out the state Department of Transportation and Development previously estimated such a project could cost $9 million.
“As time passes, projects never get cheaper,” Nicholson said.
Patrick said she was unaware of investors seeking a railroad underpass in downtown Monroe.
“I’ve never had a real estate investor say, ‘If there was an underpass, I would develop this.’ No. They brought up other concerns,” Patrick said.
Addressing the projects sought by DEDD, Nicholson said, “If you talk to property owners downtown, their concern is drainage. Shouldn’t we discuss that first?”
“Where is the money in this plan to address drainage?” Nicholson said.
Patrick expressed concern about levying another tax to cover road and drainage needs, because city taxpayers already pay taxes for those purposes.
“As taxpayers, we’re already paying the city to handle streets and drainage,” Patrick said.
Different tax proposal?
Near the end of the meeting, Nicholson asked Bratton whether DEDD would consider removing the proposed tax from the ballot and introducing a different tax instrument.
Wes Shafto, with the Boles, Shafto & Leonard law firm, said the legislation creating DEDD contemplated the possibility of a citywide tax, though no election was ever called for one.
“This was the only way to fund it,” Shafto said.
Bratton pointed out that DEDD has no regular source of revenues, beyond what it can secure through grants or through the city of Monroe.
“We meet with the mayor every year,” Bratton said. “Sometimes our requests make it into the budget.”
Most grants require matching funds, which DEDD cannot supply, he said.
“As an economic development organization, without any funding, I don’t know what we can do,” Bratton said.