Yep, its that time again—for Caddo (and for a change Bossier) voters to have another special election’ for a tax renewal. Not that there are not enough special elections in what is almost a home grown Louisiana sport— tax elections on dates that do not coincide with regular elections. This time the vote is to renew a 2.5 millage for the Caddo Bossier Port on April 9th.
On April 3, 1993, the voters of Caddo and Bossier Parishes approved a special tax of 2.5 mills to be levied on the property subject to taxation in the Port Area, consisting of Caddo and bossier Parishes for a period of twenty -five (25) years, commencing with the year 1993. The purpose of the tax was for site acquisition and for constructing, acquiring, improving and equipping docks and wharves, transfer and storage facilities, commercial and industrial facilities and other port, transportation and infrastructure facilities and improvements with the Port. The revenue from this tax has increased from $2 million in 1995 to over $6 million in 2014. In 21 years over $80 million has been generated by this assessment.
The Port has approximately 700 acres of it’s 2300 hundred acres owned left for development; only 145 of these are contiguous which limits development. All of the property is leased by the Port to it’s tenants, and the Port does not pay ad valorem taxes to any government entities; thus land acquisition by the Port reduces tax rolls. The Port hopes to add another 3000 acres over the next several decades—and 18 candidates sites in Caddo and Bossier Parishes are being reviewed for acquisition. The Port hopes to have at least two 500-acre tracts for major developments and 1000 acres for smaller 50 acre sites; the remaining acreage will be utilized for needed infrastructure costs.
According to Port Director Eric England the new land will be made available for new business recruitment as well as expansion of existing tenants as well as other local businesses. Currently the Port has 17 industrial tenants with more than 1400 employees. England touts that the return on investment has totaled more than $1.5 billion.
The Port has been criticized by many who believe Port employees are paid inflated salaries. Its 20 employees draw salaries ranging from England’s mega salary (in excess of $275,000 with benefits) to a “low” pay operator drawing over $42,000. Collectively the salaries are almost $2 million dollars per year. England’s salary alone makes him the highest paid port executive director in the state – – and for that matter industrial park manager. (For all practical purposes the Port is a glorified industrial park adjacent to the Red River that is only utilized by a few of its tenants.)
The Port headquarters (dubbed the Regional Commerce Center) is an over the top facility that houses less than 15 employees; it has a full kitchen and banquet facilities plus state of the art conferencing rooms. This futuristic facility was built at a cost in excess of $14 million and was furnished to the tune of $672,000. Port critics point to the building’s largess as another factor evidencing a poor use of taxpayer dollars.
At some juncture the Port must deal with 6 homeowners who live on Harts Island Road— to the north of Robson Road. The Port purchased a 250 plus acre tract of land on Robson Road from a former Port director at a price of $2.64 million that backs up to these homeowners. The homeowners defeated the Port’s attempt to have this tract re-zoned to heavy industrial from residential/agricultural, and thus this major acquisition is of no current benefit to the Port. This purchase plus other Port actions. have galvanized this group of homeowners who are determined to not only protect their rural environs, but also to question further land acquisition by the Port on the Caddo side of the Red River.
How much resistance this group will mount to the tax renewal is an unknown at this time. The mood of taxpayers, especially those that have been adversely affected by the dropping price of oil, is another unknown that could affect voter sentiment at the polls. The Port has started a soft sell campaign which no doubt will escalate in coming weeks before the tax election; the Port already spends big bucks on a marketing/public relations firm and it is expected that major dollars will be expended to sell the tax renewal. How all this plays out including any organized opposition like that they defeated last year’s bond package of the Caddo Parish School Board are factors to yet be known. Stay tuned.