Archive for November, 2018

Restaurant/Hotel Tax Passes on 3-2 Vote

11/30/2018

Diners and overnight guests at Ruston hotels will be paying an extra 1.75% tax on their bills come the New Year, thanks to a 3 to 2 affirmative vote at last night’s meeting of the Ruston City Council.

Voting for the new tax were Carolyn Cage, Ward 1; Angela Mayfield, Ward 2; and Jedd Lewis, Ward 3. Voting no were Jim Pearce, Ward 4; and Bruce Siegmund, Ward 5.

Proceeds from the tax will be used to underwrite debt to construct a water park, gymnasiums, and a VA/Senior Center adjacent to the sports complex now under construction in South Ruston.

Estimated costs are about $10 million, according to Mayor Ronny Walker.

At least a dozen and a half supporters showed up to speak in favor of the tax, including representatives of the Ruston/Lincoln Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Ruston/Lincoln Chamber of Commerce.

The CVB’s Travis Napper read from a resolution from the bureau’s directors, and said that the decision was an easy one for the board.

The CoC’s Lee Denny said, “The board of directors of the Ruston/Lincoln Chamber of Commerce voted to endorse this recommendation of increasing our sales tax on local hotels and restaurants for the Lincoln Parish area. We see the great benefit it provides.”

Several youngsters voiced support for the basketball courts and a volleyball program.

Micheal Gahagan, owner of Country Inn & Suites said, “Nobody wants to have a higher tax, but when the reward is so great, I can tell you from experience, we’re in favor.”

Tisha McConnell said the kids needed a place to hang out. “The kids, they hang out at WalMart, and they don’t have anywhere to go. I’m in favor of it.”

Only one person spoke in opposition, Lou Taylor, who had spoken at the November 5 meeting.

During the council discussion, the two members that voted no (Pierce & Siegmund) also repeated their arguments from earlier meetings.

Pierce said he opposed taxes without a vote of the people, while Siegmund said we needed to finish Phase I of the sports complex before launching into more construction.

Carolyn Cage, one of the three yes votes, said the comments from the visitors made her decision much easier.

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Ruston City Council to Vote on Restaurant Tax Tomorrow

11/28/2018

In a special called meeting set for tomorrow (Thursday, November 29) at 5:00 PM at Ruston City Hall, Ruston’s Board of Aldermen will decide the fate of Mayor Ronny Walker’s latest tax and spend scheme.

Up for consideration are two ordinances.

One amends a previous ordinance establishing the boundaries of a proposed tax district that consists of all the restaurants and hotels within the city limits of Ruston.

See here the document.

Also, the council will vote on the ordinance that actually levies the tax, a 1.75% tax on sales at those establishments.

Here’s the document.

Ruston City Hall is located at 401 North Trenton, and the meeting will be in the first floor courtroom.

Here’s the agenda.

Mays Rejects Plea Offer

11/20/2018

Cameron Mays has rejected an offer by prosecutors to plead guilty to Second Degree Murder.

Mays, along with his attorney Kia Richardson, was in Third Judicial District Court in Ruston this morning.

The offer included a life sentence that would run concurrently with the life sentence that Mays is now serving, after he was convicted in April, 2016 of aggravated rape. Also, the offer included dropping other charges against him.

As a result, Mays is now set to go to trial at 9:00 AM, 2/25/19.

He allegedly killed retired Grambling Professor Susan Hashway in her Paynter Drive home in June of 2012.

Appearing for the prosecution was Assistant Attorney General Michele Thompson.

Presiding was Division B Judge Tommy Rogers.

Police Jury Adopts Budgets

11/18/2018

Budgets for calendar year 2018 (amended) and 2019 were adopted on a 9-0-1 vote at last Tuesday night’s meeting of the Lincoln Parish Police Jury. Abstaining was District Ten’s Nancy Wilson. Jurors Joe Henderson (District Nine), and Jody Backus (District Seven) were absent.

A public hearing on the budgets was scheduled for the 12/11/18, 7:00 PM jury meeting.

See here the documents.

Earlier during the Finance Committee meeting, jury Administrator Courtney Hall made several comments on the budgets.

Said Hall, “If you look at the total General Fund Budget, you can see that the original budget (for 2018 expenses) was $2.9 million, and the 2019 proposed 2019 budget will also be $2.9 million.”

Regarding the Court House Capital Fund, Hall remarked, “Our net expenses that we’re proposing for 2018 is about $390 thousand. Now looking at next, what that $600 thousand represents is number one the Exhibition Center, and two is the completion of the elevator project.”

The Personnel/Benefits Committee saw a bit of discussion, but no action on a proposed contract with the Lincoln Parish Sheriff’s Office to provide courthouse security.

Several of the jurors appeared uncomfortable with the $93 thousand annual cost for two deputies to man a metal detector at the main entrance on the south side of the building. It was noted that a bid from a private security company was higher than that from the LPSO.

Annette Straughter (District 12): “That’s going to average about $22 to $23 an hour.”

Hazel Hunter (District 2): “My concern is that $46 thousand, like $22 an hour, that’s a lot for a person.”

After a bit more discussion, Committee Chair Hunter called for a motion on the proposal, but no committee member responded. Bennett, Straughter and Hunter were the three committee members present.

Hunter said the matter would be on December’s meeting agenda.

The full jury approved a change order for the covered warm-up area at the North Louisiana Exhibition Center. The bids came in under budget, so the building size was increased to 190′ x 230′ from 160′ x 230′.

The total cost will be about $723 thousand.

Walter Pullen (District Six), again objected to the financing for the structure, saying the money shouldn’t be taken from a fund that should be dedicated to repair of existing jury-owned property.

“We just borrowed $2.6 million to add on to the detention center. It’s wrong to take the money out of the Courthouse Capital Fund to pay for something that is not a capital courthouse project.”

The vote was 7 for, 2 against, and 1 abstention.

Voting no were Pullen and David Hammond. Abstaining was Nancy Wilson.

Police Jury Tomorrow

11/12/2018

The Lincoln Parish Police Jury will meet tomorrow (Tuesday, 11/13), Lincoln Parish Court House, third floor. Here are the committee meeting times and agendas:

Christmas Party Committee – 4:30 PM
agenda

Personnel/Benefits Committee – 5:00 PM
agenda

Health & Welfare Committee – 5:30 PM
agenda

Finance Committee – 6:00 PM
agenda

Public Works Committee – 6:45 PM
agenda

Police Jury – 7:00 PM
agenda

Detention Center 2019 Budget Proposed

11/11/2018

Friday’s meeting of the Lincoln Parish Detention Center Commission saw two budget documents proposed and discussed – the 2018 amended budget, and the 2019 proposed budget. Both will be considered for approval in a upcoming meeting before year-end.

2018 amended budget
2019 proposed budget

For 2018, revenues were slightly better than originally projected, $4.26 million vs $4.22 million.

Expenditures were slightly lower than projected, coming in at $4.1 million vs $4.29 originally projected.

2019 revenues are projected at $6.87 million, with expenditures predicted to be $6.83 million.

The jump in revenues and expenses for 2019 is due to the $2.5 million cost of the jail addition. On the revenue side it was shown under a line item labeled USDA loan. In the expenditures, it was shown as capital outlay.

However, no expenditure line item was shown for any repayment of loan principal and interest back to the Lincoln Parish Police Jury, the entity actually borrowing the $2.5 million.

Sheriff Mike Stone has said on numerous occasions that he will repay the jury in full for the loan. At a recent jury meeting, juror Walter Pullen said he would like to see a signed agreement from the sheriff regarding the loan.

When questioned about the line item, it was said that the repayment would be included in the amended 2019 budget that will be presented later next year.

We will question the jury’s finance committee at the upcoming meeting to determine where that repayment money will show up on its budget documents.

We were disappointed that no jury members were at the meeting, save Joe Henderson, who chairs the commission.

Hampton Prevails in Judge Race

11/07/2018

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Mayor, Council may have Violated Open Meeting Law

11/06/2018

Action taken at last night’s meeting of the Ruston City Council appears to have violated Louisiana’s Open Meeting Law, LA RS 42:11, et seq.

Specifically, a matter as listed on the published and council-approved agenda was not considered, and action was taken to amend a proposed ordinance without properly amending the meeting agenda.

No such amendment action was listed on the approved agenda. The agenda had earlier been unanimously approved by the council, upon a motion by Carolyn Cage, and a second by Jim Pierce.

Section II, Item D of the approved agenda was listed thus:

Consider Ordinance No. _____ of 2018, Levying an Additional Sales Tax of One and Seventy-Five Hundredths Percent (1.75%) in Economic Development District No. 1 of the City of Ruston, State of Louisiana (The “District”)…

However, when it was time for the item to be considered, Mayor Ronny Walker, who chairs the meeting, said it would not be voted upon. He claimed that an ordinance amending the boundaries of the district was being introduced, and that the tax itself couldn’t be voted upon until those boundaries were set.

Said Walker, “Although the ordinance will not be acted on tonight, we will have a public hearing as previously announced, in which any person desiring to make a public comment on the ordinance levying the tax may do so tonight.”

That appears to conflict with this provision of the Open Meetings Law:

LA RS 42§19. Notice of meetings

A.(1)(b)(i) All public bodies, except the legislature and its committees and subcommittees, shall give written public notice of any regular, special, or rescheduled meeting no later than twenty-four hours, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, before the meeting.

(ii)(aa) Such notice shall include the agenda, date, time, and place of the meeting. The agenda shall not be changed less than twenty-four hours, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, prior to the scheduled time of the meeting.

Next, the mayor proceeded to seek an amendment to the tax ordinance that would limit the tax to a maximum of ten years. No such action was contemplated on the approved agenda.

The motion was made by Angela Mayfield, and seconded by Jedd Lewis. It passed unanimously.

In response to questions, City Attorney Bill Carter said that was the only amendment under consideration.

Here again, there appears to be a conflict with the law:

(cc) Upon unanimous approval of the members present at a meeting of a public body, the public body may take up a matter not on the agenda. Any such matter shall be identified in the motion to take up the matter not on the agenda with reasonable specificity, including the purpose for the addition to the agenda, and entered into the minutes of the meeting. Prior to any vote on the motion to take up a matter not on the agenda by the public body, there shall be an opportunity for public comment on any such motion in accordance with R.S. 42:14 or 15. The public body shall not use its authority to take up a matter not on the agenda as a subterfuge to defeat the purposes of this Chapter.

During the public hearing, several citizens opposed to the tax commented. There were no comments in support of the tax.

James Fuller, who last month wrote a letter to the council members, and which was subsequently published as a letter to the editor, commented opposing the tax. He noted that questions brought up in his letter had not been answered.

Also heard from was Lou Taylor, who said, “We need to complete Phase I. We need to get additional information regarding the sports districts, etc. from other cities that have them. I just think we are overextending ourselves until we finish phase one.”

Chris Garriga, a local restaurant owner, said he felt that the tax should be limited to 5 years instead of ten.

Mary Halbrook said she had contacted her council member to oppose the tax.

“I feel that if we’re having all these people that are coming to town – coming to the sports complex – these thousands of people that are coming to town eating in restaurants – just the sheer number of people coming will increase the tax revenue, and you’ll have that money to fund Phase II,” she said.

She added that the tax should be levied on hotels only and not restaurants.

As we had noted upthread, an amendment to the tax district boundaries was introduced.

Walker said the amendments added food trucks and crawfish trailers to the list, and removed some closed restaurants.

One notable deletion was Ruston Theaters, LLC.

See here the original ordinance as adopted on 10/1/18.

See here the amendments.

Walker also announced a special called meeting for Thursday, November 29, at 5:00 PM. He said a final voted on the tax ordinance would be held then.

About 15 minutes into the meeting, a tornado warning caused the meeting to be interrupted for about 30 minutes. Everyone was evacuated into adjacent offices during that time.

School Board Meets Tomorrow

11/05/2018

The Lincoln Parish School Board will meet Tuesday, November 6, 6:00 PM, Central Office, 410 South Farmerville Street.

Here’s the agenda.

Letter to the Editor

11/05/2018

November 4, 2018

Ms. Carolyn Cage-Ward 1, Ruston, Louisiana Sent by: E-Mail
Ms. Angela Mayfield-Ward 2, Ruston, Louisiana
Mr. Jedd Lewis-Ward 3, Ruston, Louisiana
Mr. Jim Pearce-Ward 4, Ruston, Louisiana
Mr. Bruce Siegmund-Ward 5, Ruston, Louisiana

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am OPPOSED to the SALES TAX ORDINANCE proposal to be voted on by the Ruston City Council at the November 5th regular meeting.

I first wrote to each of you on October 8, 2018 about the proposed 1.75 % sales tax ordinance. I have contacted each of you in person or by phone, at least once, to discuss this issue. I sincerely thank each of you for the time and courtesy each of you has shown me.

I hope the reasons for my opposition to the ordinance was adequately conveyed in the October 8th letter. I tried to be as succinct as possible with my reasons, without resorting to bullying or threats, (as some have done and suggested), regarding this matter. My interest from the beginning of this dialog has been my involvement in the public discourse and a genuine effort to do what “is right” for the City of Ruston and its citizens.

As of this time, answers to the many questions that were brought out in the letter have not been addressed and certainly no adequate answers given. I think the citizens of Ruston deserve more than just salesmanship and hyperbole, with no foundation in fact, before they are expected (or in the instance of this ordinance, COMMITTED) to paying more taxes. A public body not answering legitimate questions and concerns and blindly committing to significant financial obligations is “not right”. Trust me, these concerns are not just mine only. I have received many calls and encouragement from citizens and others for the questions and concerns expressed in my letter.

Again, I hope each of you will consider the concerns I have expressed and vote to defeat the proposed ordinance and submit the questions for further study and review.

If when you get this message, you would care to talk with me, I can be reached at (318) 255-7878 or (318) 265-7878. I look forward to visiting with you on this and other issues that affect our city.

I will see you at the November 5th meeting.

Sincerely,

James Fuller

Copy furnished to:
Ruston Daily Leader(Cody Richard)
Lincoln Parish News Online(Walter Abbott)

P.S. Yes, I have seen the front page story in the Ruston Daily Leader and that is more of the salesmanship and hyperbole mentioned above. No comments for the taxpayers or citizens of Ruston, seems somewhat of a one sided (except for comments of Pearce and Siegmund) story.