In The News › New Orleans voters to decide on drainage tax renewal Dec. 10

New Orleans voters to decide on drainage tax renewal Dec. 10

By Jeff Adelson

The Advocate

November 25, 2016

New Orleans voters will decide in two weeks whether to extend a property tax that pays for almost a third of the Sewerage & Water Board’s drainage operations.

The tax renewal, which voters will encounter on the Dec. 10 ballot, would lower the present millage rate of 4.66 mills to 4.46 mills and extend it for another 30 years.

Officials have said the tax is crucial for maintaining the city’s drainage system, particularly as the agency takes on new responsibilities and costs when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completes three pumping stations on the city’s canals and wraps up work on the massive Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project in the coming years.

The drainage tax is one of three that fund drainage operations at the S&WB, a $51.1 million a year expense, according to the nonpartisan Bureau of Governmental Research, which has endorsed the tax. The millage up for renewal brings in about $15.4 million a year.

While the cost of running the agency’s sewer and water systems is paid by user fees, 98 percent of its drainage operation is paid for with the revenue from the three taxes.

The one up for renewal is the oldest of those taxes and was first imposed for a 50-year period in 1967.

At present, the owner of a residential property worth $350,000 who qualifies for a homestead exemption pays about $128 a year under the tax; the bill would be about $123 a year at the lower rate.

The tax pays for a variety of services dealing with drainage. The S&WB is responsible for all drainage pipes 36 inches or larger — smaller pipes are handled by the Department of Public Works — and for maintaining and operating the city’s canals and pumping stations, all of which contribute to keeping rain from flooding streets and properties.

“This is something basic to your ability to stay here and live here and be successful,” S&WB Executive Director Cedric Grant said.

Those responsibilities are set to expand and become more expensive soon, as the federal government turns over responsibility for major projects to the S&WB.

Next year, the Corps of Engineers is expected to complete work on pumping stations at the 17th Street, London Avenue and Orleans Avenue canals. And parts of the massive citywide drainage upgrades known as SELA, such as those on Napoleon Avenue, are expected to be complete soon.

All of that comes on top of a budget that already is stretched thin. The BGR report noted that the money the S&WB brings in for drainage work is largely consumed by operational costs and paying back loans. As a result, about $50 million worth of work had to be deferred in 2016 because not enough money was available.

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