An LSU-backed bill coming before state lawmakers this session would allow certain parishes to create special taxing districts in areas surrounding public colleges.
Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, who is sponsoring the bill, says LSU approached him with the concept. Here’s how it would work: Any parish that houses a public postsecondary institution—such as two-year community colleges and four-year universities—would have the option to create economic development districts that also incorporate the college, with parish governing authorities establishing district boundaries.
Each district, overseen by a seven-member board of commissioners, would then be able to utilize tax increment financing. As with all current districts, that means a district could levy ad valorem taxes up to five mills, sales taxes up to 2% and hotel occupancy taxes up to 2%—all subject to voter approval, unless there aren’t any voters in the district.
LSU’s planned district wouldn’t include voters, nor would it include all the taxes. However, after getting the legislative okay, the university would need the Metro Council to set the boundaries, meaning affected businesses would need to be on board.
Based on preliminary concepts, the LSU district would include the North Gate merchants as well as businesses in the South Gates area. LSU officials say the North Gates businesses they’ve spoken with seem supportive, and they’re in the process of looping in South Gates merchants.
LSU Vice President of Public Affairs Jason Droddy says the idea was borne from widespread concern that came after several recent safety issues, including bicyclists and pedestrians getting struck by cars last fall and a string of shootings on Burbank Drive early this year.
“Parents were asking the university for better security off campus grounds,” Droddy says. “We can’t make any investments off-campus property, but the city and landowners could.”
He says LSU’s funding priorities could later morph into more off-campus infrastructure improvements to improve the visitor experience.
All the legislation mandates is that tax revenues fund “public improvement projects for the benefit of the respective college.” That could mean infrastructure improvements, blight remediation or other initiatives, depending on what the district prioritizes.
LSU would likely levy a sales tax for nearby businesses, initially using revenues to pay for what it says are immediate security needs, such as additional street lighting, bike paths, sidewalks and potentially security cameras for off-campus areas.
The legislation is pending the House Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs Committee.