Jefferson Parish tax for drainage renewal: what it is

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Jefferson Parish voters will decide Saturday (Dec. 10) whether to continue paying what is now a $15.4 million property tax to operate and maintain the drainage system. Keith Conley, chief operating officer of Parish President Mike Yenni’s administration, said Wednesday (Nov. 30) that flood protection is an “essential service and function” of the government (NOLA.com).

The 6-mill tax would cost the owner of a $200,000 home with a homestead exemption $75 a year, an increase of $17 from the current $58. Jefferson voters everywhere except in Grand Isle will be asked to renew it for a decade beginning in 2017 (NOLA.com).

Although this would not be a new tax, it could result in a 1.36-mill increase. Voters renewed the tax at 6 mills in 2007, but rising property values since then have resulted in the Parish Council lowering it to 4.64 mills. The decision to levy the full 6 mills or some lower level falls to the council (NOLA.com).

The tax funds 45 percent of the Drainage Department, which employs more than 287 workers. They operate and maintain :

  • 69 pumping stations
  • 340 miles of open canals and ditches
  • 1,465 miles of subsurface drainage pipes and box culverts
  • 44,000 catch basins and inlets
  • 5,500 manholes
  • 2,800 canal outfall pipes.

 

The council estimates the 6-mill tax would produce $19.4 million, which is a $4 million increase from its budgeted revenue in 2016. Officials say costs have increased, and that aging equipment and infrastructure could make costs rise more (NOLA.com).

Should the tax not be renewed, the Bureau of Governmental Research said, Jefferson would have to make “severe cuts” in other services to maintain drainage at current levels. Conley said drainage won’t be cut. “Drainage is such an essential necessity to the parish and to the residents and to businesses that we cannot take anything away from the Drainage Department,” he said (NOLA.com).

The Drainage Department acknowledges that “many existing drain lines” built before 1981 in older areas “were not designed to handle a high rate of rainfall in a short time.” The department attributes street flooding to these drain lines, which were installed before Jefferson adopted drainage design standards (NOLA.com).

Hundreds of miles of these low-capacity pipes require upgrading to handle a “10-year storm,” or one with a 10 percent chance of occurring in any given year, the Bureau of Governmental Research said. The Drainage Department told the bureau it needs $2 billion to $3 billion for the upgrades (NOLA.com).

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