LIVINGSTON – The end of one election cycle spills into another, and it brings with it a potentially tough campaign to fund two gravity drainage districts.
Members of the Livingston Parish Council who represent two areas without funded gravity drainage districts will take to the streets to educate the public on why they should approve millage proposals on the Nov. 18 ballot.
The resolution District 7 calls for an eight-mill ad valorem tax for the area from Walker South, into the Port Vincent, French Settlement, Maurepas and Springfield – an area which spans 238,000 acres and 360 square miles. The district – which covers 53 percent of the parish – has operated as a non-funded entity since its inception just over a year ago.
The millage for District 7 would generate approximately $800,000 per year, according to Larry O'Neil, chairman
The plan for District 6 would ask voters to approve two propositions – a 5-mill property tax and a half-cent sales tax. The area covers the portion of Walker north of Interstate 12, eastward to the Tangipahoa Parish line.
The proposals for the property tax and sales tax will go on the ballot separately. projected to generate $250,000 and $450,000 per year, respectively.
“Everybody in the parish is paying for gravity drainage, but the problem on the eastside has always been homestead exemption – there’s no money out here, so you have to keep going back to landowners for more money, more money,” said Livingston Parish councilman Jeff Ard, who represents a portion of Gravity Drainage District 6. “That’s why we broke up with a sales tax, showing we’re trying to make everyone pay, everyone pitch in, and get the west side of the parish to see we’re putting in our share and we’re working together to take care of Livingston Parish as a whole to work on our drainage.”
The move would pave the way for parishwide drainage for the first time in the history of Livingston Parish. Between 75 and 80 percent of the parish operates without gravity drainage districts.
The tax revenue would provide dedicated funding for equipment to clean ditches, along with money to ante up for matching funds required on federal grants. Revenue from the millage would exclusively by the individual district, and not for projects in other parts of the parish.
"We've talked so many times about how it would be great to have this," said District 9 Livingston Parish Councilman Shane Mack, who represents the Albany area. "This will capture the entire parish once the taxes are passed.”
Mack is in a unique position of representing members from districts 6 and 7. Drainage issues top the litany of calls he receives from constituents.
"The problems along the (unfunded) areas stem from being able to clean ditches and canals, and unclogging banks along the waterways," he said. "The problem, however, is a lack of resources."
Whether or not the voters agree, however, remains another story.
O’Neil realizes the challenge he and the other proponents face.
“This is going to be a tough sell,” he said. “A lot of people are anti-tax.”
Many residents fear the Parish Council will determine how to spend the revenue – a misnomer O’Neill and other proponents are working to dispel.
“We want the public to know that the money generated from the millage will go completely to our areas,” he said. “The council won’t dictate how the money is spent.”
The reasons behind the need for the millages will highlight much of the campaign through Nov. 18, Mack said.
“The thing we need to do more than anything is educate the public,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize that areas such as Denham Springs, Walker and Watson have their own districts already, so it’s not like this money goes to them.
“By law, we have to keep it within that jurisdiction,” Mack said. “Parish government can only do so much to clean the ditches and byways without a millage, but funding of the drainage districts would make allow us to do it regularly for those two districts.”
O’Neill said he has gotten mostly positive feedback, along with some negative comments.
“What we need most is for people to speak their minds,” O’Neill said. “Some people think we’ll just stick the money in our pockets, but we’re not doing this for money.
“Ethics will be the top priority, and the money will be accounted for,” he said. “The gravity drainage district members for these districts volunteer their services.”
The districts will hire local workers for cleanup, who know the area and the people in those geographical boundaries, according to O’Neill.
“This is about keeping this local more than anything else,” he said. “Areas like Denham Springs, Walker and Watson would have no control over what we do with the revenue.
“All the Parish Council would do is appoint members,” O’Neill said.
The district has operated as a non-funded entity since its inception just over a year ago.
The funding would also serve as a leverage tool which would enable the district to provide matching funds to pay for major projects.
O’Neill said he gets calls from residents who pay as little as $400 per year on flood insurance, and others who pay $4,000 annually.
The millage would not guarantee lower premiums, but it would likely save residents from out-of-pocket expense on deductibles in future flood events, he said.
“Residents would pay far less on the millage than they would pay from each deductible of $1,000 that comes out of pocket,” O’Neill said. “If it keeps property even once during a five-year period, that amounts to a big savings.”
O’Neill estimates it would take two years to get the system up and running, if voters approve it.
“Passing the millage is only part of the work, but I feel confident we can do it,” he said. “If it passes, we have to assemble a crew for the district and purchase equipment, but we’ll get that done.”
Residents in both districts should take a different proposal when they head to the polls, O’Neill said.
“I hope they can think of “We” instead of “Me,” he said. “I’d hope people would consider the bettermemt of the parish, as well as the continuous increase in flood insurance and the deplorable condition of roads damaged by the floods.”