LIVINGSTON -- After much discussion, the Livingston Parish School Board voted to adopt a resolution, as amended, in opposition to a proposed tax-exempt development on Buddy Ellis Road during its meeting on Thursday, Feb. 6.
The proposal to adopt the resolution — which School Board members voted to amend to reflect the Board’s opposition to the tax exemption and not the development itself — passed by an 8-1 vote. Jeffery Cox, of District 6, cast the lone dissenting vote.
The resolution stemmed from the proposed 6.5-acre, 120-unit low-income housing development “Morningside at Juban Lakes” on Buddy Ellis Road, which is being funded through the Capital Area Finance Authority (CAFA). The projects CAFA funds do not pay property taxes.
While the developer stated that 'low-income' is written into the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), he told the parish council that the development is for the elderly.
On Jan. 23, the Livingston Parish Council adopted its own resolution to send to the East Baton Rouge Council requesting that it not support the tax exemption for the development. The EBR Council has the power to approve CAFA projects in other parishes.
Now, the Livingston Parish School Board has joined the Livingston Parish Council.
According to the School Board’s resolution, the tax exemption for the proposed development would bring in an estimated $100 annually to all Livingston Parish governmental entities, with a projected 30 percent of that total going to the school system. Mark Boyer, attorney for the School Board, said the figures came from the Tax Assessor’s office.
Over the 20-year life of the tax exemption, that would be a total $600 going to the school system, which would be legally obligated, in perpetuity, to provide “a free and appropriate public education to all school age children residing in this proposed development.”
According to the resolution, those services would include transportation, food services, regular education services, extracurricular activities, facilities, supplies, and other general items provided by local education agencies.
Superintendent Joe Murphy presented the two-page resolution and read it in its entirety to the School Board and all those gathered inside the council chambers.
After reading the resolution, Murphy took a few moments to stress to the public that the development itself is not what he takes issue with, but the tax exemption it entails.
“I want to make it perfectly clear: We are very, very attune to the need for very affordable housing in Livingston for all our citizens,” Murphy said. “When we look at this, I want everyone to understand the development is really not the issue for us here — the disparity in tax for that development is what we are really concerned about.”
Murphy said the tax exemption places “an unfair burden” on people who are paying a specific rate of sale and property taxes.
“I do not believe we can support, fiscally, sound policies here at this board without considering opposing this particular development,” he said. “At this time, I would like to ask the board to consider adopting this resolution opposing this particular development.”
Devin Gregoire, of District 9, pointed out the second paragraph on the second page, which states: “Whereas, the Livingston Parish School Board, hereby expressly and publicly opposes the proposed Morningside at Juban Lakes development as planned by CAFA.”
“Do we want to oppose the development as planned or do we want to oppose the tax?” Gregoire asked. “From a public viewpoint, if this statement was taken expressly just by itself, we’re opposing the low-income housing, as opposed to the tax exemption status of the project itself.”
Boyer and Murphy both said that the tax exemption “lies within the agreement itself for the development.” Therefore, opposing the tax is the same as opposing the development.
Boyer then suggested adopting the resolution as amended, which Gregoire did by motioning to offer an amendment to be placed in the second paragraph of the second page to reflect the Livingston Parish School Board’s opposition to “the tax exemption of the proposed Morningside at Juban Lakes development as planned by CAFA.”
Gregoire’s motion was seconded by Frank Parrino, of District 8.
“If that (the tax exemption) is not removable from the project, we oppose the project altogether,” Gregoire said. “It says the same thing: We’re opposed to the tax, but if that’s not removable, we’re opposed to the whole project.”