In The News › Voters asked to renew tax for drainage

Voters asked to renew tax for drainage

It leverages federal money for projects

Tuesday, April 26, 2011
By Richard Rainey
The Times-Picayune

When they enter the ballot booth Saturday, Jefferson Parish voters will be asked to add a 10-year extension to a 5-mill property tax for drainage projects.

At stake is the ability to pay the 35 percent match that the parish owes under the federally financed Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control program, or SELA, and to pay for various smaller drainage projects.

“We need any penny, any money, we can get from any source to upgrade our drainage here,” Public Works Director Kazem Alikhani said.

Renewing the millage will translate to an upswing in tax bills for property owners. Over the years, the Parish Council has rolled the tax back from 5 mills to 3.6 mills. Approval Saturday would return the tax to 5 mills. The Bureau of Governmental Research estimates that the owner-occupants of a house valued at $150,000 would pay $10 more a year and a house at $250,000 would pay $24 more.

Alikhani said the tax would generate about $14.9 million a year.

Voters first approved the tax in 2001. At the time, it was been dedicated solely to paying for the parish’s part of the SELA program, which arose from the May 1995 flood.

After Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, the federal government waived the local match for SELA projects. In 2007, voters gave parish officials permission to use any surplus money for neighborhood drainage projects.

However, Congress reinstated a 25 percent local match that year and increased it to 35 percent in 2008 for fiscal 2009.

Jefferson Parish was given 30 years to pay more than $250 million to the federal government for its share, Alikhani said.

All told, the SELA program has financed the construction of 59 flood control projects across Jefferson. Two more are under construction, and 13 haven’t begun or are in the design phase, Alikhani said. These include canal work and expanding the capacity of the Elmwood and Suburban pumping stations in Metairie and building two new ones in West Jefferson, Alikhani said.

Should voters not renew the millage, they would be leaving on the table money that could keep neighborhoods from flooding during major rains, Alikhani said.

“If they don’t, then the citizens of Jefferson Parish will lose a considerable amount of federal money,” he said.

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