Businesses may leave East Feliciana, decision up to school board

CLINTON, LA (WAFB) - Six business owners in East Feliciana Parish say they may be packing up their business and heading out of town; that's if members of the East Feliciana School Board vote to reinstate a tax that was once suspended.

The school board decided Tuesday to seek a legal opinion.  They also voted 8 to 4 to send the matter to the finance committee.

One owner says he's already making plans to leave town.

Five years ago, Ricky Harkrider moved his business from Baton Rouge to Clinton. His company, Southern Emergency & Rescue Vehicle Sales, sells new and used ambulances and also repairs and makes new ambulances out of the old bodies. But now, he's considering taking his company elsewhere.

"We have a for sale sign. We're going to move if this doesn't get resolved," said Harkrider.

Before Harkrider opened his business in Clinton, he was told about a rebuild tax. Basically, if a business sells parts to someone out of state, a five percent repair tax is tacked on. That was a turn-off to him.

But in May 2007, he received letters from the police jury and the school board, saying the tax would be suspended for the next three years.

"All of a sudden, about a month ago somebody called and said the parish was going to try and put the rebuild tax back in place, effective 2010."

It's not just his business that would be affected. His company and five others make up 90 percent of the parish's industry.

According to the chairman of East Feliciana Economic Development District, this tax, is an old, non-collectable tax that only five parishes in the state enforce.

"There's been no notification, no resolution by police jury or school board. There was a resolution in 2007 stating they were going to get rid of it. All old board members we talked to thought this was resolved," said Harkrider.

So far, the police jury voted not to collect the tax. 9News was told no one from the school board was available to comment.

The development district chairman says the school board is in a financial pinch and if they push the businesses into paying the tax, some say they'll leave. Just one business moving out, would mean losing a big chunk of school's tax base.

"The state of Mississippi has been courting a lot of businesses here," Harkrider said. "I don't have to be here."

Those businesses could also start out-sourcing their repair work, which would mean fewer jobs for residents in the parish.

There is no word on when the school board will make a final decision.

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