TOWN OF STERLINGTON, ROBERT HOLTZCLAW, LUCIA HOLTZCLAW, AND JEROD CROSS Plaintiffs-Appellants
EAST OUACHITA RECREATION DISTRICT NO. 1 Defendant-Appellee
from the Fourth Judicial District Court for the Parish of
Ouachita, Louisiana Trial Court No. 2016-3252 Honorable C.
Wendell Manning, Judge
BRYAN RACER, A.P.L.C. By: C. Bryan Racer Counsel for
STEPHEN TEW Interim District Attorney Counsel for Appellee.
MITCHELL Assistant District Attorney.
BROWN, PITMAN, and GARRETT, JJ.
matter is before us as an expedited appeal, pursuant to La.
R.S. 13:5128. The plaintiffs, Town of Sterlington and Lucia
Holtzclaw,  appeal from a trial court judgment denying
their challenge to the proposed expenditure of ad valorem tax
proceeds by the East Ouachita Recreational District No. 1
("EORD") to secure bonds and their request for an
injunction prohibiting the issuance of the proposed bonds.
For the reasons outlined below, we affirm the trial court
April 18, 1977, the Ouachita Parish Police Jury
("OPPJ") created the EORD for the purpose of owning
and operating playgrounds and other facilities and generally
to engage in activities which would promote recreation and
any related activity designed to encourage recreation and
promote the general health and well-being of
youths. Pursuant to those purposes, the EORD
opened three recreational facilities, namely,
Swartz-Lakeshore ("Swartz"), Osterland and
Sterlington. The EORD derives its funding primarily from a
property tax of 7.48 mills and the revenue it generates
through the programs conducted at the facilities.
Valorem Tax Renewal
November 17, 2014, the OPPJ adopted a resolution approving a
request by the EORD to hold a special election seeking voter
approval for a special property tax ("ad valorem
tax") renewal proposition. The ad valorem tax was to cover a
period of 10 years (2016-2025), "for the purpose of
constructing, improving, maintaining, operating and equipping
the recreational facilities of the District." The voters
approved the tax on March 28, 2015.
EORD then moved forward with plans to upgrade the facilities,
determining to upgrade one facility at a time. Osterland was
the facility chosen for the initial upgrades due to its
central location and the fact that it would cause the least
disruption to game schedules during construction.
September 26, 2016, the EORD adopted a resolution authorizing
the issuance of limited tax bonds ("Bonds"),
to exceed $5, 000, 000.00, for the purpose of
"constructing, improving and equipping recreational
facilities of the Issuer within its jurisdiction, "
payable from the ad valorem tax. Notice of the EORD's
actions was published in a local weekly newspaper on
September 29, 2016. On October 3, 2016, the OPPJ adopted a
resolution approving the issuance of the bonds.
10, 2016, the EORD submitted an application for a capital
improvement grant for both the Swartz and Osterland
facilities with the Monroe-West Monroe Convention and
Visitors Bureau ("CVB"), whose stated mission is
"to attract conventions and tourists to the
area." The CVB offers grants for the purpose of
developing the tourism industry in Ouachita Parish. The CVB
is funded by hotel occupancy taxes, and grant applicants are
required to demonstrate how the capital improvement
"will be marketed to increase hotel occupancy."
their application, the EORD indicated a hotel occupancy of
"1000" and stated that the completion of the
project "will attract additional state, regional, and
national tournaments to the community." The EORD further
stated that the project would "give us a much larger
footprint in the sports tourism industry and draw thousands
of new visitors each year."
following statements were also made by the EORD:
Last year we partnered with West Monroe Baseball and the
Convention and Visitors Bureau to co-host a Dixie Boys State
Tournament and a Girls World Series Tournament. These events
drew thousands of visitors, with the girl's [sic]
tournament accounting for over 1, 500 hotel nights during the
tournament. The economic benefit for our community was
tremendous. . . .
The facility upgrades we are proposing would make the
Ouachita Sports Complex the premier sports facility for our
region. This premier facility will allow the East Ouachita
Recreation District and the Convention and Visitors Bureau
the opportunity to pursue large scale tournaments, thus
making a huge economic impact on our community. These
state-of-the-art facilities will also have a positive impact
on the quality of life for our local residents, as the
complex has the ability to host a variety of sports events
and activities throughout the year. Accordingly, within a few
short years, the creation of the Ouachita Sports Complex will
generate enough tourism dollars to more than offset the
Convention and Visitor's [sic] Bureau Investment. The
economic impact of future tournaments will be substantial. A
single large tournament will generate at least $500, 000.00
for Northeast Louisiana.
EORD requested the sum of $6, 758, 725.00,  but was awarded a
$1, 000, 000.00 grant on July 25, 2016, "to Complete 8
full 200 ft. Fields." The Town of Sterlington also
applied for a capital improvement grant of $350, 000.00, for
a new sports complex, but was denied.
October 25, 2016, the Town of Sterlington
("Sterlington"), along with Robert Holtzclaw, Lucia
Holtzclaw and Jerod Cross ("Plaintiffs"), as taxpayers
and residents of Ouachita Parish and parents of youths who
participated in sports, filed this suit against the EORD
challenging the validity of the bonds and, alternatively,
seeking declaratory judgment and injunctive relief.
Plaintiffs alleged that, pursuant to "public
pronouncements, " the EORD intended to invest the bond
proceeds in construction at the Osterland location for
"the growth [of] sports tourism and youth travel
baseball and softball events" ("travel ball")
and "the economic benefits of bringing participants from
outside of the District." Plaintiffs contended that
sports tourism and economic growth were outside the purpose
of the recreational district and that the dedicated tax ...