MANDEVILLE- In 2014, St. Tammany Parish created a handful of economic development districts- strategically bordered areas around six of the parish's exits off of I-12.
Some of them feature bustling commercial business areas, like Highways 59 and 21, while others are nothing more than undeveloped woods, like Highways 1088 and 434.
The goal was to give the parish an opportunity to build up the commercial infrastructure for those areas, which leaders hoped would draw in spending from passers-by and new business investments.
Fast forward to a year ago this month, when the parish council passed a 3/4-cent sales tax for any purchases in their six economic development districts, making the rate 10.5% total. The addition was projected to bring in $4 million a year to parish coffers for 15 years. Meanwhile, the consumer would see their purchases increase by $.75 for every $100 spent.
Because the districts don't include any residents, the council was able to put the sales tax increase into effect this past January (Jan. 1, 2017) without voter approval.
"It's part of a bigger strategic development plan," said parish spokesman Ronnie Simpson.
He says that plan is for future generations. Simpson says the parish wants to be more competitive in attracting and creating jobs and new businesses, which is happening now. The parish says it had 2,400 new businesses start there in 2016.
"We want this to be part of that bigger picture to help build roads, including Seymour Meyers Extension, Stone Road Extension, Mandeville by-pass and other east-west connector roads," he said. "All making St. Tammany the premier community that it deserves to be."
However, in the past 10 months since the sales tax increase has been in place, there's been some pushback. Most notably, the District Attorney and Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany have requested an opinion from the Attorney General's Office seeking clarification as to whether the way the taxes were put in place is even constitutional.
At the same time, the West-St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the parish requesting an end to the taxes, as businesses continue to claim they are being negatively impacted by the increase.
"The parish president did respond to our letter with a letter, and she came and spoke to our board this month," said Chamber Executive Director Lacey Toledano. "But we will be at the November council meeting. We will be involved in the budget hearing process, on the agenda review, so we can get ahead of these issues and not behind. We can be proactive about these issues to better understand."
All residents are encouraged to do the same.
Those opinion requests to the Attorney General's Office are still pending.