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Abbeville's sales tax proposal focus of Chamber town hall

Like any tax, the City of Abbeville’s proposed half-cent sales tax that will be on the ballot for the May 4 special election has been a point of much discussion.
The Abbeville City Council voted last month to call a special election, with the idea that the half-cent sales tax will generate funds to provide raises for all full-time city employees. Proponents say the measure is the best option to create a new revenue stream for raises, while some from the business community say an increase to sales tax could be detrimental.
That debate continued Thursday night during a town hall meeting held by the Vermilion Chamber of Commerce. The event took place in the Abbeville High School auditorium.
“I want to express my appreciation to the chamber for hosting this event,” Mayor Mark Piazza said. “We welcome the opportunity to share information about the dire need we are in and the necessity for this tax.”
If passed, the tax is estimated to generate $1.4 million annually. Proposed raises to members of the Abbeville Police Department, Abbeville Fire Department and municipal employees would cost $1.1 million. The mayor and council members are not employees and would not receive raises.
Fred Hoyt, an Abbeville business owner, said he is not against raises, especially for police. However, he said the current proposal, which would push Abbeville’s sales tax to 10.45%, is not the best way to go about making that happen.
“I salute the service of every city employee,” Hoyt said. “I don’t want my comments to be looked at in a
disparaging way towards that. As a businessman, I’m a numbers man, and I know there are creative solutions to any issue.
“I feel we need to go back to the drawing board for some more creative solutions.”
Hoyt referenced looking at cutting and scaling back in areas of the city’s overall budget. Councilman Francis Touchet Jr., who spoke Thursday about the necessity of the passing the tax, said the city had reviewed those options.
“I am very conservative, and this is very much a tough thing I have to go for,” Touchet said. “We have worked to do what we have to do as far as the monies that have come in.”
Piazza said the city had not brought a sales tax increase to the table in 25 years.
“That was for fire and police,” Piazza said. “No one else got anything at that time.”
Touchet said in the 17 years that he has been on the council, a time frame that has paralleled Piazza’s time as mayor, the city has watched other entities pass sales taxes.
“We have seen the sheriff and the hospital go in front of us,” Touchet said.
Touchet said other options to increase revenue include raising utility rates or property taxes, avenues he does not want to travel.
Piazza added that the city has decreased electrical rates to citizens and businesses multiple times during the past several years.
“We have said we’re not going to put that on the taxpayers and people who are on fixed incomes,” Touchet said. “I don’t like taxes, and I can tell you that I would not be in front of you today if there weren’t a dire need.”
Chamber President Thomas Thompson, said, based on polling of chamber members, the chamber is not in favor of the current proposal. Thompson said waiting until the Oct. 12 election would save the city $9,000 for the cost of the special election as well as give more time to look at other possible plans that could provide more for employees, with the police being more of a focus.
“We rushed this a little too fast,” Thompson said. “The sales tax wouldn’t be collected until later in the year. We’re (Chamber) not opposed to the raises. Police need to be carved out and taken care of and treated appropriately for what they do for the city.
“We’re moving too fast to give too little.”
According to information provided Thursday, Abbeville’ salary per month for police is $1,680. That is $1,200 less per month than departments in nearby Broussard and Youngsville. Proposed raises would be $500 a month for Abbeville police and fire, and hourly raises for municipal employees. Abbeville Chief of Police Bill Spearman attended Thursday’s town hall. He said as far as the proposal is currently structured, his focus is solely on his officers and department.
“I am not worried about what the rest of the city makes,” Spearman said. “My guys need a raise.”
Touchet said if the sales tax passes in May, the burden to make raises possible will not be tremendous on those who are paying the sales tax.
“It will amount to 50 cents on every $100 you spend,” Touchet said.
Hoyt said his concern has been and remains an increase that would put Abbeville 2% higher than Lafayette.
“This would not be without ramifications,” Hoyt said. “Raising our prices are going to force people to buy things down the road. This is going to make us further down in a competitive-type situation. There are already empty businesses in town.
“We’re pushing more people to the Internet and to Lafayette with their sales tax dollars.”

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