By BETSY SWENSON
Tammany West news
MANDEVILLE–With millions of dollars in “rainy day funds” languishing in the Mandeville city budget, city council members and the mayor are examining how that money might be put to better use.
At their March 27 meeting, the council will consider an election that could free up extra money generated by a 1 cent sales tax, allowing the administration more freedom to direct the funds where they’re most needed–possibly even into the taxpayers’ pockets.
The tax money is currently restricted for the city’s infrastructure needs such as roads, and sewer and water lines. But over the years, Mandeville has taken in more money than it has been able to spend in that area, and the city has socked away millions in what is called a “fund balance.” The election would allow voters to rededicate those extra funds to other city departments.
“Over the past few years, some of these sales tax funds have built up big fund balances of 10 or 15 million dollars or more, because the city hasn’t found a way to spend the money on the things it’s supposed to be spent on,” explained District 3 Councilman Ernest Burguieres.
Mayor Donald Villere has mentioned the possibility of a tax break for Mandeville residents in the form of a year-long tax holiday, or possibly even a rebate check. But Councilman Rick Danielson said it’s too soon to make any promises about how the extra money can be spent, as the city’s Financial Oversight Committee is still nailing down the options available to the city.
“The voters have to approve [the rededication] first,” Danielson said. “We can’t make any promises on any sort of tax breaks until after the voters approve, and we can see what it means for the city financially, but having those options on the table is very interesting to me.”
He added, “If we can give tax money back, whether a one time scenario or over the long haul, that is a good thing.”
Burguieres, who represents the Old Mandeville area, said he could imagine his constituents eager to see extra funds directed toward mitigating the historic district’s flooding problem. The lakefront area has seen some residents and businesses flood dozens of times over the years, and the city is currently considering possible solutions to the problem that could total tens of millions of dollars.
“On the flip side, many citizens feel we have the highest taxes of any parish in the state, so why don’t you cut back the taxes because it’s too much?” Burguieres asked. “Therein lies the conflict, because the mayor wants more money to spend with fewer strings attached, and the citizens want taxes to be lowered.”
He continued, “If we keep building our fund balance of 2 or 3 million dollars a year year, we don’t need to build that much money up.”
Danielson said he is interested in the possibility of reducing property taxes over time, along with the possibility of a tax holiday, should the voters choose to rededicate the extra funds. The Financial Oversight Committee is working to forecast different scenarios and flesh out the language that would go along with the legislation presented to the voters.
Danielson predicts voters could see the rededication issue on the ballot in November.
While the prospect of tax rebates or holidays are exciting to have on the table, Danielson said, “We still have to make sure we’re managing the budget and finances as efficiently as we can, to make sure we’re making the best financial decisions possible.”