After a nearly 45-minute debate, a motion to remove the Rec 2-3 10-year 5 mill renewal, which brings in $1.3 million a year for the district’s parks, from the Nov. 3 ballot narrowly failed to pass — with 3 for and 4 against — at last night’s Rec 2-3 Board meeting.
The discussion to possibly drop the property tax from the ballot was proposed by board member Ed Bice, who said that since the board voted in May to put it in the upcoming election, a lot has changed in regard to Terrebonne Recreation, including the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government (TPCG) taking over of the Bayou Country Sports Park (BCSP) — relieving Rec 2-3 from having to fund and maintain the sports complex — and the formation of the Terrebonne Parish Recreation Modernization Task Force, which is currently reviewing parish-wide recreation with a goal to possibly develop a plan to modernize and correct any found flaws in the system.
With the BCSP no longer having to be paid for with Rec 2-3 dollars, Bice said that it’s possible the tax doesn’t need to be 5 mills.
One mill is $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.
Michelle Neil, the board’s counsel, noted that if the renewal passes and it’s discovered Rec 2-3 doesn’t need the $1.3 million a year to operate, the board has the option to only levy the amount the district needs.
Bice, who proposed moving the property tax to the April 2021 ballot, for the Rec 2-3 Board to take more time to listen to voters on why the tax renewal did not pass in the October 2019 election.
“By pushing it to April, we will be listening to what the voters told us one year ago, almost to the day, that if things didn’t change they weren’t renewing a millage,” he said. “So we’ve done nothing since then.”
Board member Shawn Dupre said it failed because of BCSP due to voters’ concerns over funding it. “That’s the biggest change [since last year’s election], that $35 million complex that is no longer under our watch,” he said.
Brock Landry, Executive Director of Rec 2-3, suggested that now that BCSP is out the way, residents near other parks in the district might be more inclined to vote for the millage renewal, now knowing more funds will be available for their community parks.
Bice also argued that the board should wait for members of the Terrebonne Parish Recreation Modernization Task Force to complete their process and wait for their recommendation. Board member Ryan Page and Councilwoman Jessica Domangue, who also attended last night’s meeting, agreed.
“I think it is in our best interests and the best interests of the parish to wait for the task force to complete their research and their recommendation,” Page said. “…I understand that it is a parish-wide task force, but it is in the best interests of Rec 2-3 to wait and see what comes out of that task force and have us put it to the vote of our constituents after that decision is made by the task force.”
“My stance is that I support the tax; however, I also support the Recreation Modernization Task Force,” said Domangue, who spearheaded the task force. “The way I see it is if it fails, it’s another black eye for recreation; it’s another black eye on this board. Let’s wait until after the Recreation Modernization Task Force comes up with their solutions.”
Also present at the meeting was Councilman Gerald Michel, who said whatever the task force recommends should have no bearing on passing the millage because it’s not a foregone conclusion that the task force will propose consolidation, as they are looking into multiple solutions. He also said it’s up to Rec 2-3 board members to lead the district and focus on getting the renewal passed, not discussing if it should be on this ballot or not.
“Let’s just say we take it off and the task force doesn’t have a solution and then Rec 2-3 is the only district in the parish that doesn’t have any rec money coming in…So now, we are behind everybody else,” board member Robbie Liner said. “We can’t say the whole parish wants this rec reform because…other districts [millages] passed every single time.”
“So we can’t keep putting all of our chips in a corner to say: everybody wants rec reform, let the parish speak. The parish is going to speak when we have the vote,” he continued. “…And I just don’t want us to get caught where the task force doesn’t come up with a solution…and we are the only district without funds. If you honestly say that’s the best thing for our voters, that is actually insane.”
Chris Chiasson, Rec 2-3 Chairman, who is also on the modernization task force, said no one at those meetings is asking for Rec 2-3 to hold off on proposing the tax renewal. “So clearly, to that task force, this doesn’t matter,” he said.
However, Bice said it matters to their constituents.
The task force is scheduled to present a plan to the Terrebonne Parish Council by the middle of February. If approved by the council, it will be up to Terrebonne Parish constituents to pass.
During the meeting, several potential consequences were discussed if the millage fails or if the Rec 2-3 Board removes it from the Nov 3 ballot.
Bice said it was discussed that if the tax fails this November, the Rec 2-3 Board will be dissolved by the Terrebonne Parish Council. Page said he was told by Councilman Darrin Guidry that if the board decides to remove it from the ballot, “we will not be a board come April.”
Guidry did not deny saying that last night. However, he said he is just once councilman and it’s up for the majority of the council to decide.
Chiasson noted that the November election will have a bigger voter turnout than putting it on a smaller ballot, such as the one in April 2021, which the board has been criticized for doing in the past. He also highlighted that the money is going to be spent to put on the ballot regardless. Neil noted earlier in the discussion that the board will be charged for it as it has already been published.
Neil advised the board that it has a duty to “fund the district in order to provide the services that it is obligated to provide under the law.” She went to say that if the board votes to move it, it is in danger of not receiving funds to provide those services, “and that’s the biggest issue.”
“We’re not going to go broke next year, and we won’t go broke the next year,” Bice said.
The district will have an estimated $200,000 in the bank by the end of this year. A $250,000 grant reimbursement for BCSP is expected to come by February 2021, bringing the total to around $450,000, and the last annual $1.3 million from its current millage will come in the first quarter of 2021. With the BCSP included, the annual payroll for Rec 2-3 is roughly $350,000 to $400,000, Chiasson said.
“This [postponing the tax vote] is not to not get the renewal done; it’s just not to do it in November but to move it to April,” Bice said shortly before the votes were cast. “I am not against funding this rec district.”
The vote to remove the Rec 2-3 millage renewal went as follows:
YAY — Bice, Kevin Guidry, Page
NAY — Liner, Dupre, Wren Halford, Chiasson
Early voting in Louisiana started Friday, October 16.
The board also adjusted the plan for the millage renewal, which can be found below:
*The plan includes rough estimations.