St. Charles Parish officials pitched two millage tax proposals to fund sewage improvements and a hurricane protection levee system at Tuesday’s first parishwide community meeting, but area residents suggested imposing a convenience fee so everyone shares the cost.
Chief Administrative Officer Buddy Boe equated it to a user fee that would not offer the stable funding needed to deal with mounting costs for wastewater facilities and levee protection.
A sales tax hike wouldn’t work either, Boe said, pointing to a 20 percent drop in collections from last year. He added it would take substantial increases in sewer fees to cover the projected funding needs and take years to generate enough money to do the projects. Also, earlier wastewater rate hikes resulted in people using less water so revenue fell.One resident asked whether any of the tax revenue generated by these millage would go to parish employee raises or bonuses. Boe said they are civil workers and their pay is decided there.
“We feel this is practical,” Boe told the estimated 20 people who attended the meeting at the American Legion Hall in St. Rose about the need to generate local, stable funding to generate bonds and grants for millions in projects.Residents will vote May 2 on two propositions.
Proposition 1 would renew a 2.2-mill tax for 30 years to finance wastewater system improvements. It also would let parish officials use a portion of the revenue to cover operations and maintenance costs for the system after bonds are paid off in 2018.
Proposition 2 is a new 4-mill tax (3.6 mills new tax and .4 mill expected to come from a reduction in a street lighting tax). It would be dedicated to building an estimated $300 million flood protection levee system on the west bank and completing the levee system on the east bank at Montz. Both areas lie outside of the existing federal levee system.
“D.C. is not coming,” Boe said of expecting federal funding to cover levee protection costs. “The funding has to come from the local level. The bonding is key and we need large amounts of money.”
The parish is currently building a west bank levee with $21 million in local money that has been saved since 2008, coupled with state and federal matches. That money will be depleted by the fall, spent on projects underway.
Sam Scholle, parish public works director, added, that a wastewater rate hike wouldn’t work either because many major area industries don’t pay sewer fees because have their own sewer treatment plants.
As to the levee system, Scholle said it is as much about getting water out as keeping it out, which is costly to build, operate, maintain and network. He recounted hurricanes push water into the area that took three weeks to get out.
Parish officials say, if Proposition 2 fails, levee construction would stop until federal or state money is awarded. But to get this money, the parish would need matching money to help pay for projects.
According to Boe, “Right now we have about 45 percent our population with absolutely no protection.”
He said, although residents have questioned why both propositions now, they rely on each other to deal with the flooding, as well as promote business and economic growth in the parish.
“We’re trying to get away from hoping it doesn’t come,” he said of flooding.