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It’s been said before, but it bears repeating – the growth in Livingston Parish is not sustainable.  
 
Not with current market forces, anyway.
 
The consistent statement from the parish’s Planning and Zoning Commission, followed by the Parish Council, is that these new developments are following the rules. Therefore, there is nothing that they – the council – can do to stop this development from happening.
 
Unless they want to get sued, of course.
 
But problems persist. Within just one short week, residents of a neighborhood visited the Parish Council to complain about grinder pumps that were installed and cleared inspection … and they continually fail.
 
The road program was announced and, even with a break in 2017 and large sums coming through in 2018 and 2019, the total list continues to fall short.
 
Based on the road list that was bonded in 2006, which cost $50 million for 276 miles of roads, one could estimate that it is – roughly - $100,000 per half-mile of overlaid road.
 
That was 50 percent of the total roads in Livingston Parish receiving overlay.
 
So, with $7.65 million spent in 2019 for the road program, one could estimate about 38.25 miles of road were overlaid. That’s after money was saved for grants to help bolster the project in 2018 and 2019. Under normal circumstances the pot is much less, although the bonds associated with the program will be paid off in 2021 and that total pot will rise to the $6 million range, still woefully inadequate to manage the parish’s road system.
 
Then, a culvert fell apart on Cane Market Road causing untold traffic issues for as long as it takes to fix it. Who’s going to fix it? The parish? The state? Will the parish seek a grant?
 
Again, doesn’t matter which one you choose – the infrastructure necessity is unaffordable. The parish doesn’t have the money; the state definitely doesn’t have the money with a multibillion-dollar backlog that continues to grow; and the whole “grant money is the best investment” is true, except for the fact that it puts the locals under the ruleset of whoever is offering the grant, and besides it was already local citizens’ tax money anyway.
 
The gamble the parish is taking is that “retail brings rooftops.” So, combining the highest sales tax rate in the state and, in some cases, the country, with a mid-range property tax rate local officials hope, at some point, a tipping point will be reached by bringing in enough places to shop and higher property values.
 
Except, just as recently as June 2019, 198 homes were sold for a total $40 million in detached single-family units. Take away $75,000 per home for the homestead exemption, and you’re left with $28 million in taxable value, which is somewhere in the ballpark of $150,000 per year on a 5-mill tax (as part of the road program) and you better hope that those homes didn’t require any more than, say, 1.5 miles worth of road to be constructed.
 
But wait, that’s $150,000 total into the full pot that is the road program tax base – which also powers the Department of Public Works and its day-to-day efforts, among other things.
 
And the sales tax growth? Difficult when 27 percent of the parish is asset limited, income constrained, but still employed according to the United Way.
 
Sales taxes have grown since 2006, double, but that’s also come with nearly double the population growth. More stress on infrastructure that was not meant to handle that number of people. Just look at Linder, Duff, and Dunn roads, which connect Lockhart and Arnold. Subdivision upon subdivision has come to the area – and they hold water every time it rains.
 
It’s not doomsday by any stretch. People still get to work and ride the roads all the time. The water eventually leaves yards and ditches.
 
No one’s suggesting that new taxes are the answer, either.
 
Things such as zoning and development restrictions are the first step. If the dormitory in Watson is any indication, holes in the process still exist. However, it takes a tough discussion with your parish councilman if you want that to happen.
 
But, eventually, if the citizens of Livingston Parish want better, difficult steps will have to be taken. If the “free state” is to endure, well – guess we’ll just wait for the water to come again.
 
J. McHugh David is editor and publisher of the Livingston Parish News.

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