Tax renewal sought for drainage work _lowres

Location of Bayou Napoleon

West Ascension Parish drainage officials will ask voters next month to approve extending the life of a long-standing property tax and pay for the planned cleanup of a blocked bayou that keeps Donaldsonville and areas downriver from flooding.

The drainage work will be part of an effort by West Ascension and neighboring parishes to fix Bayou Napoleon. The bayou is one of the more significant west bank drainage problems, which was exposed in May when heavy rainshowers sparked flooding on the east and west banks, parish officials said.

The voters who live on the west bank of Ascension Parish will be asked in the May 2 election to renew the 4.67-mill property tax for 10 years.

But the vote is only a renewal in part. The tax, which ends this year, has been levied in five-year increments. It was renewed by voters in January 2005 and again May 1, 2010, according to state election results. The proposal that will be on the ballot, however, extends the life of the tax from five years to 10 years.

If voters approve the renewal, the same 4.67-mill tax won’t expire until 2025.

Early voting ends Saturday.

The tax will continue to cost $46.70 annually for a house with a market value of $175,000 and a homestead exemption.

Parish officials say the renewal and extension are needed so they can seek a long-term bond issue to pay for planned improvements to help drainage in east Donaldsonville, Aben, Lemannville and the St. Jude neighborhood.

Bayou Napoleon, which runs southeast of Donaldsonville, is so clogged with silt, logs and other material that engineers have said the blockage acts like a dam. Bayou Napoleon carries water from Ascension Parish and, with other waterways, including Bayou Verret, ultimately brings it to Lac des Allemands in St. Charles Parish.

But once drainage from Donaldsonville hits the blockage outside the city, water forms a whirlpool and is forced up a canal and must go the long way around to Lac des Allemands, causing flooding.

Ascension Parish Councilmen Oliver Joseph and Kent Schexnaydre said Ascension, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Charles and Assumption parishes have agreed to share in the cost to clean up Bayou Napoleon, and an engineering firm has been gathering information for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Joseph, chairman of the West Ascension Consolidated Gravity Drainage District Board of Commissioners, said the cost depends on what the Corps of Engineers requires but estimates range from $1 million to $5 million. The bayou runs through swamp and farmland.

Joseph said the board wants to use government bonds to pay for Ascension’s share of the project and needs a 10-year term on the tax for that to happen. West Ascension drainage has two tax sources that generate about $900,000 per year for all its operations.

The 4.67-mill tax headed to the ballot generates about $390,000 per year. The other 5.33-mill tax generates the remainder and already is a 10-year tax.

Schexnaydre said even with the renewal, the drainage district would likely have to make cuts in order to get the bonds.

The parish’s most recent financial audit showed the district had a $1.7 million surplus at the end of 2013.