In The News › Lake Borgne levee tax increase is essential for maintaining flood protection: Editorial

Apr 18, 2015

Source: NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Levees, On the Ballot, Taxes

Lake Borgne levee tax increase is essential for maintaining flood protection: Editorial

By The Editorial Board, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

April 18, 2015

The NOLA.com | Times-Picayune editorial board makes the following recommendation for the Lake Borgne Basin Levee District property tax on the May 2 ballot.

To levy 7.5 mills in property tax for building and maintaining flood protection and drainage projects for 30 years in St. Bernard Parish

Yes

After Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaches in 2005, it was imperative for the federal government to build a stronger flood protection system for Southeast Louisiana to guard against disaster.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has made $1.4 billion in improvements in the Lake Borgne Basin since then, including adding major floodgates at Bayou Bienvenue and Caernarvon Canal. But the expenses don’t end with the construction work.

There are significant ongoing costs that the levee district will have to pay to maintain the system, staff pump stations and replace old equipment.

Before Hurricane Katrina, the Lake Borgne district had 60 miles of levees and 14 floodgates, according to a report by the Bureau of Governmental Research. But its responsibilities have grown significantly since the disaster, with 23 miles of new floodwalls and 19 more floodgates. The district also must maintain part of the massive surge barrier wall built across the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, Bayou Bienvenue and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

The Lake Borgne district also needs money to pay for a $4 million floodwall to be built near the Violet Canal. That project would allow the Florida Avenue-40 Arpent levee system to be certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Without the FEMA certification, flood insurance rates could rise significantly for homeowners in St. Bernard Parish and the Lower 9th Ward. Having affordable flood insurance is a vital concern for individual families and is important to the economic well being of the region.

The Lake Borgne district is borrowing the money for the floodwall from the Orleans Levee District but will have to pay it back.

The Lake Borgne district is part of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, which also includes the Orleans and East Jefferson levee districts.

But the revenues produced by the individual districts are kept separate and spent in the district where they are collected.

The federal and state governments are paying construction costs for the federally-designed levees. But as they are formally turned over to local levee districts, the districts are required to pay for operation, maintenance and improvements.

The Lake Borgne district, unlike Orleans and East Jefferson, also handles drainage for St. Bernard Parish. The existing property tax millages for Lake Borgne don’t produce enough money to cover costs.
For the past three years, the district has taken $500,000 out of a reserve fund to balance its budget, BGR said in a report on the millage request. That can’t continue.

The 7.5 mill property tax on the May 2 ballot would shore up the district’s budget. The tax is expected to produce an additional $2.6 million each year, beginning in 2016.

According to BGR’s report, $500,000 of that will be used to plug the district’s annual budget deficit. Another $855,000 would allow the district to hire four pump operators and an operations manager for the pump stations and levees. It also would pay for maintenance and future capital expenses at pump stations.

Replacing one pump station engine would cost about $1 million, levee district officials told BGR. That is just one example of the high price tag for properly maintaining the flood protection system.

Another $830,000 of the increased revenue would be used for maintaining levees, floodwalls and canals. In addition to daily costs, floodgates at Bayou Dupre and Caernarvon Canal will need to be overhauled every 10 years. That work is expected to cost $1.5 million for each gate.

The district needs to start putting money aside for those future costs now.

BGR estimated the tax increase would add $38.25 per year to the tax bill on a home that is worth $126,000 and has a homestead exemption. Commercial property owners would have an additional $105 in taxes for each $100,000 in value.

St. Bernard voters rejected the tax increase in December by a wide margin. But there were a number of other tax measures on the ballot, and levee officials hope residents will reconsider.

It is understandable that property owners might be reluctant to pay higher taxes. But it is essential to ensure that floodwalls and gates built post-Katrina are well maintained and provide lasting protection, and the levee district needs enough money to do that.

Apr 18, 2015

Source: NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Levees, On the Ballot, Taxes

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