The Evangeline Parish Police Jury Monday, followed the advice of their legal advisor, to deny a request from the Pine Prairie Energy Center to declare the Industrial Development Board as tax exempt. The request from Pine Prairie Energy and the local Industrial Development Board, created by the police jury, came during the annual review for any property owner protesting their tax bills.
The attorneys for both Pine Prairie Energy and the Industrial Development Board said they are appealing a tax bill by the Evangeline Parish Assessor over property owned by Pine Prairie Energy and transferred to the Industrial Development Board. The issue is now before the local state district court. It was learned that Judge Tom Fuselier has ruled in favor of Pine Prairie Energy over the ownership of pipeline property. A second issue has still before the court on whether the Industrial Development Board, created by the police jury, is tax exempt.
Attorney Tony Walker, representing the Industrial Development Board, said a memorandum of understanding was reached between the board and Pine Prairie Energy granting the private company a property tax exemption for 15 years in exchange for the company to locate in Easton. Walker said such agreements are standard throughout the state as an incentive to attract private industry and businesses to relocate.
Parish Assessor Dirk Deville, who initially agreed to the agreement, said he got involved when the firm transferred pipeline property over to the Industrial Development Board. After consultation with a specialist in pipeline laws, Deville was advised that the entire agreement was unconstitutional. Deville has been attempting to collect property taxes from the company.
As a result, Pine Prairie Energy stopped adding additional gas storage caverns to its Easton facility and has begun a similar operation in Mississippi.
Dr. William “Tojo” Ward said until this legal issue is resolved, “a dark cloud hangs over any prospect of economic development in our parish. We cannot compete with other parishes. It is a nightmare that is never ending. What kind of message are we sending to business and industry?” he said.
Ward reminded the jury that Pine Prairie Energy has been a good neighbor to the entire parish spending over $12 million dollars in this parish.
Police Jury Attorney Greg Vidrine advised the jury that that the issue is beyond their authority and scope. The jury can only rule on the whether the valuation on a given property is too high or low, not on whether it should be exempted or reduced to zero.
The board also took no action on a second protest from Spectra Corporation, the owner of the old Parkview Plaza Shopping Center.
In other action, the police jury:
--appointed Dustin Vidrine as new Public Works Director by a vote of 5-4. Vidrine received votes from Rocky Rider, Ryan Williams, Richard Thomas,, Bryan Vidrine and Kevin Veillon. Former Public Works Director Chester Granger received votes from Ryan Ardoin, Knny Burgess, Eric Soileau and Lamar Johnson;
--approved plans for the construction of a new 9-1-1 Communications facility at the Industrial Park;
--appointed Hunter Soileau to replace Pat Soileau on the Fire Protection District Two Board;
--sent best wishes to retiring Secretary Treasurer Doug Deville who is stepping down at this month.