LAKE CHARLES, La. (KALB) - After a Rapides Parish District Court Judge ruled that the Town of Lecompte misused a 1989 sales tax for “emergency preparedness,” the Third Circuit Court of Appeal reversed and remanded that decision.
In 2017, Lecompte residents Otis Payne and Edward Christie, represented by District Attorney Phillip Terrell, filed a declaratory action against the Town of Lecompte claiming that the town misappropriated a 1989 sales tax.
When that tax passed, it specified that all proceeds from the tax could only be used for “the purpose of constructing, acquiring, improving, operating, and maintaining garbage collection and disposal facilities, fire protection facilities, and civil defense facilities.”
However, it is alleged that from June 30, 2014 to June 30, 2015 the Town of Lecompte transferred the funds to the Lecompte Police Department for equipment, fuel expense, repairs, electrical usage, orange warning cones, and termite pest control service.
The lawsuit refers to a civil defense organization that was established at the time of the sales tax. Through this “civil defense,” emergency functions could use the funds “to minimize and repair injury and damage resulting from disasters caused by enemy attacks, sabotage or other hostile action, or by fire, flood, earthquake, or natural causes.”
However, the lawsuit reads that this “civil defense” could not be used as an excuse against the Town of Lecompte because the civil defense organization was abolished in August of 1993.
Ninth Judicial District Judge Monique Rauls issued a summary judgement ruling in favor of the plaintiffs at the time that the tax was misused.
Now, Third Circuit Appellate Judges, Sylvia Crooks, John Conery and Van Kyzar reversed and remanded Rauls’ decision.
“The trial court here considered only the goals of response and recovery, i.e., the after-the-fact treatment of disasters and emergencies and the attendant costs,” said Crooks. “This notion is wholly unsupportable under a clear reading of the governing legislation and defies common sense… They must make sufficient preparation beforehand.”
Crooks also stated that when civil defense was replaced by the Louisiana Homeland Security and Emergency Assistance and Disaster Act, “the term ‘emergency preparedness’ shall be synonymous with ‘civil defense’, ‘emergency management’, and other related programs of similar name.”
“(Third Circuit) render judgement in favor of Defendants declaring that the tax revenue generated through Town of Lecompte Local Ordinance No. 1137 may properly be used for expenses in the Lecompte Police Department that directly relate to preparation and response to the natural disasters and other emergencies.”
Since the District Court’s decision, Terrell has dropped out of the suit.
No date has been set for the case to be heard again in the Ninth Judicial District Court as of now.