Our Views: West Jefferson voters should approve property tax for flood protection

By The Advocate Editorial Board

Source: The Advocate

April 27, 2018

When it comes to taxes, essential services have to be paid for, and one of them in Louisiana more than almost anyplace else in the world is flood protection.

But a property tax millage for flood protection in West Jefferson is a great investment for home and business owners, because maintaining the post-Katrina system of levees and flood gates has a strongly positive payback: lower flood insurance premiums.

To protect the homes and businesses of West Jefferson, voters there ought to approve a millage to maintain the region’s flood protection system.

The proposition on the ballot is a 4.75-mill property tax for 10 years. It will fund the levee improvements and maintenance of the hurricane and flood protection system for West Jeff under the jurisdiction of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-West.

Voters turned down a 5.5-mill maintenance proposal in November 2015. The need for flood protection has not gone away, particularly as we prepare to enter hurricane season, but the authorities listened and retooled their proposal.

SLFPA-West, as it is known, includes Algiers, where residents continue to pay for its infrastructure and a share of costs of the gates and pumps serving the district, as does Plaquemines Parish. But the vast bulk of the infrastructure is in the old West Jefferson Levee District, folded into the new post-Katrina authority. Property taxes must be used within the district where they are raised, and this is West Jeff’s share.

As the levees have to be periodically “lifted” to deal with subsidence, now is the right time for this tax. Its work would not only maintain flood protection for the region, but it would allow the levee board to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to lift and “armor” the levees against the most severe storms. Doing the work later would add $20 million to the cost.

The Bureau of Governmental Research endorsed the tax plan, saying completion of the federal flood protection system means the district has new maintenance responsibilities.

“Its existing revenue sources are inadequate to bear those costs,” BGR said. “The new tax will fund the necessary maintenance to keep West Jefferson protected and control flood insurance rates. The tax is appropriately scaled to future costs.”

BGR also said the district “has a clear spending plan and appropriate accountability for taxpayer funds, including a shortened time frame for levying the tax, proposition language that closely aligns with the district’s needs, and regular state and federal oversight of the system.”

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. today. Secretary of State Tom Schedler reminds voters to bring a photo identification to the polls.

And when they go, we hope that they will see the wisdom of an investment in flood protection.

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