By Dan Copp / Staff Writer
A task force examining how to speed up construction of the Bayou Country Sports Park says the project is hindered by major inequalities in the local recreational tax system and no overall plan to pay for it.
Although Terrebonne Parish has spent about $8.7 million toward the development of the project, the task force found no dedicated financing stream for the maintenance or construction of the park, Hank Babin, chairman of the Recreation Task Force, said at a news conference today.
“We wanted to know where the money has been spent, what has changed and how much is it going to cost to complete,” Babin said. “Where is Terrebonne Parish’s money going? We’re still working on the answers to that, but we can’t move forward until we know where we are.”
There are 11 recreation districts in Terrebonne Parish, but the districts are not consolidated, Babin said.
“We currently have 11 different taxing districts that make up vastly different areas in acreage and size,” he said. “Some of them are densely populated and have a lot of property taxes generated, and some cover very large areas but have very few homes.”
As a result, the task force found “gross inequalities” in the existing system, Babin said. For example one household may pay $50 a year in recreation district taxes, but a household living in a similarly valued home three blocks away may pay $164.
“That resident pays three times the property taxes and basically uses the same recreation facilities,” Babin said. “This is happening all over Terrebonne Parish.”
The Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce that established the task force believes that Recreation District 2-3, tasked with building and maintaining the project, should be assisted by all the other areas of the parish that will use the regional sports park, Babin said.
Known by many as the “Field of Dreams,” the Bayou Country Sports Park broke ground in 2015 between La. 311 and the Valhi Boulevard extension, south of The Lakes subdivision. The project will include softball, baseball and soccer fields, volleyball and tennis courts, a dog park, a walking and biking trail and a community lawn.
Babin also said the proposed improvements to Airbase Park in Houma, which include a playground, tennis courts, a dog park, a football stadium, an amphitheater, a performing arts center, a kayaking pond and a bigger rodeo arena also lack an overall financing plan.
Airbase Park, which is in Recreation District 11, was initially going to be paid for through district tax dollars and other money, Babin said. However, money for the first phase of the project was just moved to other projects in the district.
“But like the Bayou Country Sports Park, we don’t feel like Rec 11 should simply have to pay for a park that all of Terrebonne will use,” Babin said. “That’s why we advocate that these be made into regional parish parks and not simply the responsibility of a single district. They are for all of the people.”
The task force found that the parish is relying on state construction money to complete the Bayou Country Sports Park, Babin said. Although that may not burden taxpayers, the task force fears it could prolong the construction of the project.
“It’s not going to result in either one of these parks being completed in the next five years,” Babin said. “As a matter of fact, these parks may not even happen in the next 10-15 years. We view these two projects as being something that’s great to the quality of life for the health and well-being of the residents, but we need to find money for them.”
About 86 percent of the revenue that pays for recreational projects stems from property taxes, Babin said.
According to the task force’s findings, no discussions or estimates for operations and maintenance of any new facility is being discussed.
Approving new projects with no plan to pay for them is like winning a new car on a game show, Babin said.
“It may look great for the camera, but the winner usually can’t afford the taxes and insurance,” he said. “We understand politicians want to get elected because they have a constituency to serve, but we have to be really careful about what we promise people because we don’t have a system in place to pay for the operations and maintenance on the back side.”
Babin said the parish needs to create a complete district inventory list of each park, know the number of each type of facility it provides, find out the costs for their operation and maintenance and determine if money is available to service the existing system.
In addition, each park should be classified as either “neighborhood,” “specialty,” “community” or “regional park,” Babin said. A five-point grading system should be also be implemented.