Buddy Ellis Flooded

Vehicles drive through high water in Denham Springs following a round of storms.

A proposed ordinance to implement a one-time fee on new development has been sent back to committee, the Livingston Parish Council voted Thursday.

Had it passed, the ordinance would have required overseers of newly subdivided lots, new commercial development, and newly constructed subdivisions to pay an “impact fee” to be used for off-site drainage.

But after some concerns expressed by the public and some on the council, it was decided to defer the ordinance to the next committee meeting Nov. 30.

“The ordinance committee and [Councilman Shane Mack] put a lot of work into this, but we just didn’t have the information we needed,” said Tracy Girlinghouse, chairman of the committee.

The council agreed that something “must be done” regarding development and drainage, especially as the parish continues to see rapid expansion. In the 2020 Census, Livingston Parish had the state’s seventh-fastest growth rate, increasing in population by more than 14,000 — or just over 11 percent.

Despite agreeing that something must be done, council members are still undecided on exactly what must be done.

Mack, of District 9, has been a proponent of the impact fee ordinance, saying the fees could be used to “mitigate the negative impact to the off-site drainage system caused by new development.”

The impact fee, Mack said, would not apply to anyone outside the development, just the overseer of the area being developed. Mack said he has heard numerous complaints from constituents regarding drainage since he took office — complaints that have only grown louder alongside new developments.

In a recent interview, Mack said he is “not against development” but added that he is hoping to “promote good growth.”

“We all know development impacts the drainage system,” Mack said in a recent interview. “So this drainage impact fee is to go to improving off-site drainage to minimize the impact caused by the development.”

During Thursday’s meeting, Mack said he believed the ordinance was “well-written” but acknowledged it needed “some minor modifications.” He reiterated his stance that impact fees could benefit Livingston Parish residents, especially those outside of a funded gravity drainage district.

Currently, there are three funded gravity drainage districts in Livingston Parish: Gravity Drainage District 1, which is funded by a property tax and sales tax and covers Gray’s Creek and parts of the Amite River Watershed; Gravity Drainage District 2, which is funded by a one-cent sales tax from the Watson area; and Gravity Drainage District 5, which collects a one-cent sales tax in Walker and areas north.

Earlier this year, the parish council dissolved gravity drainage districts 6 and 7 — which were unfunded — and formed Gravity Drainage District 8, which included all areas of unfunded drainage in the parish.

But like its predecessors, Gravity Drainage District 8 — which covers a large portion of the parish — remains unfunded.

“You all know as well as I know that we need to do everything within our power to get ahead of the growth that’s coming to Livingston Parish,” Mack said. “We have 80 percent of Livingston Parish that doesn’t have any dedicated funding or resources to improve drainage in any way, shape, or form.”

Not everyone agreed with Mack’s solution.

Melissa Parmelee, of Home Builders Association of Greater Baton Rouge, said the association wants to help solve the drainage issues but that the impact fee ordinance as written would burden “future homeowners with additional costs.”

Lee Foster, a builder, agreed that something must be done about drainage but added that an impact fee “is not a recurring revenue that fixes a problem long-term."

“We all agree there’s development drainage issues out there,” Foster said. “There are ways to go about doing it. I don’t think a one-time impact fee is the solution. There are other mechanisms out there… that provide that revenue long-term.”

Gerald McMorris, of District 6, implored developers to attend the committee's future meetings to help council members come up with a solution.

“They need to come because they’re the ones building the houses and can help us fix these issues,” McMorris said. “How can we make sure we don’t flood the people below us? Help us out. You guys are building these things. Help us out please.”

Girlinghouse said he believes creating a taxing district would be a better way to solve drainage “because it’s recurring and it doesn’t financially impact anyone who’s here now. It’s just for future development.”

“I’m not sure there’s an avenue to do both (taxing district and impact fees), but I believe passing the taxing district is the best route to go, if it’s an either-or,” Girlinghouse said.

Mack sided with Girlinghouse on taxing districts but said those are “two separate issues.” He acknowledged that a one-time impact fee would not be enough to solve drainage issues surrounding new development but said “this is a start.”

“We just cannot afford to not address this and to not take action and to allow Livingston Parish to be developed to the point where… the drainage system fails, and everyone suffers,” Mack said.

“We either need to stop the development or fix the drainage problem.”

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