STERLINGTON, La. (KNOE) - Sterlington is moving one step closer to giving the town the highest sales tax rate in the state.
"I have two businesses. What you all are trying to do to me, will kill my business," said one business owner.
The Board of Alderman approved the language of the ordinance Tuesday night. It calls for the creation of an economic development district, with a sales tax increase of 1.75%. The amount is slightly lower than the previously proposed 2%.
Before the meeting started, the city held a public discussion for business owners to share their thoughts on the possible tax hike. The room was tense and full of emotion as business owners fear the worst of what's to come.
If the tax passes, the new sales tax would be 12.70%. This would give Sterlington the highest in the state, and the entire country.
"It's going to kill our business," said Katherine Lowery, owner of Ray’s Automotive Supplies.
Mayor Caesar Velazquez presented the plan as a way to tackle the cities debt. Sterlington sits at more than $20 million in the red.
One business owner feels the idea would drive away business to neighboring cities.
"That is a big concern of ours because they're 5 or 8 miles down the road. And if they go down there that means that we lose here," said Lowery.
One business owner suggested a possible alternative to pull the city out of its financial hardship. He says the city should sell the newly built ballpark.
"What little assets we have or manpower, is at that ball field. Well, we can't eat the ball field. It's not doing us any good," said another business owner.
Mayor Velazquez says the city is exploring that option.
"It is on the table. We are trying to negotiate. We've talked to two people already. We just haven't gone too far with the negotiations yet because there's a difference of what they want to pay and what we owe," said Lowery.
The Mayor says hiking the sales tax is the last thing he wants do, but it's necessary to turn things around. Business owners must now wait patiently as the council votes on how to move forward.
"We could close our door today and go home because we're 80. Ray's 80, I'm 76 years old, but there's other people who don't have that option," said Lowery. "And that means we would lose our business, and plus maybe some more."
Business owners have collected over a thousand signatures to protest the tax. The ordinance will now go before the Board for a vote at the next meeting.