Supporters of tax proposals to clear drainage ways in the eastern side of Livingston Parish are ramping up their campaign efforts as early voting begins.
Raising money, printing road signs, sending mailers, conducting interviews and visiting town council meetings are among the means parish councilmen, local officials and floodplain consultants are using to spread the word about the proposals, which would bring locally funded drainage maintenance to the eastern part of the parish.
But, with voting for the Nov. 18 election already begun, the local officials pushing the ballot measure are coming up against a continued lack of awareness, anticipated low turnout and a general distrust of new taxes.
"I think it's 50-50 right now," said Parish President Layton Ricks, who favors the tax proposals. "It's going to be tough to get them passed."
"People feel like they're already paying too much in taxes, and sometimes they're not aware of how the taxes are used and can't be used," he continued.
He hopes voters will be convinced as they learn the money is directed solely for drainage improvements in their areas.
"This is a dedicated tax for drainage and drainage only," he said. "I hope that in itself will help it pass."
Voters in the eastern half of the parish will cast ballots on on tax proposals to fund two gravity drainage districts responsible for cleaning and maintaining lateral ditches and canals in those regions. The shallow ditches move rainwater out of subdivisions and neighborhoods, and carry it into the Amite River or Lake Maurepas. Supporters of the taxes say clogged ditches are a primary cause of nuisance road flooding in the region.
Across parts of Livingston Parish, trees and leafy bushes sprout from the dirt canals designed to whisk away storm water.
Gravity Drainage District 6 covers the area east of Walker and north of Interstate 12. Voters in the 200-square-mile region will vote on a 5-mill property tax expected to raise $250,000 a year and a half-cent sales tax expected to raise $450,000 a year. The taxes are balloted separately.
Gravity Drainage District 7 covers the area east of Walker and south of Interstate 12. Voters in that region, which constitutes 53 percent of the parish's land mass, will see on their ballots an 8-mill property tax expected to raise $960,000 a year.
The tax revenue would stay within those districts and be spent on employees and equipment used for clearing ditches, said Albany-area Council member Shane Mack. Maintenance of road ditches would remain the responsibility of the parish.
Supporters emphasize the tax proposals, if approved, would bring the eastern side of the parish in line with the western side, where three gravity drainage districts already do this work. A small crew of parish workers currently clears ditches in the eastern parts of the parish, where the drainage districts are unfunded.
Mack, whose district overlaps both new drainage areas, said the basic plan — if funded — would be to start cleaning from the southern part of each district and work northbound.
"It's over a period of time of consistently working to improve drainage that all will be benefited," he said.
Supporters of the District 7 initiative have hired a consultant and formed a political action committee, Friends of Livingston Parish Gravity Drainage District 7. The committee has raised $6,610, according to a campaign finance report filed Wednesday.
The group's biggest supporters are an engineer and a floodplain manager from Quality Engineering and Surveying, the Port Vincent firm that has been assisting the District 7 board with developing plans this past year.
"Because we live down here, we want to see something be improved with the drainage," said Jamie Seal, floodplain manager and vice president of operations for the firm. "If this tax doesn't pass, these people will flood."
Also supporting the tax is ELOS Environmental, a consulting firm from Hammond, and Yellow Iron, LLC, a construction firm from Watson, according to the filing.
Mack said supporters of the District 6 proposals have raised about $4,000 to $5,000, but no campaign finance reports were available yet from the secretary of state's office.
Yet, it's not clear if supporters of all three proposals have done enough to get the word out.
Port Vincent Mayor JJ Page said he knew little about the District 7 tax proposal before he called his council member, Jeff Averett, last week. Similarly, the members of the board of aldermen aren't well-informed about it, he said.
"I'm just not hearing it," Page said. "And I'm having to reach out to try to get the information about it. I'd think, if it's something we really, really needed to get pushed though, it would be something that would be out there."
He added that people without the information are likely to vote no, even though he thinks it is a good proposal.
"Most of the people I've talked to have negative no's. No more property taxes," he said. "(Averett) is telling me they are going to work on our part of the parish. It sounds pretty promising."
Officials in a small village in southern Livingston Parish raised questions Wednesday night about a drainage tax proposal on the November ballot.
Similarly, Livingston Mayor David McCreary and Albany Mayor Gene Glascock said there is little talk about the District 6 proposal in their communities, though parish council members came to their meetings to discuss it. Both mayors support the tax, saying it would benefit drainage in the municipalities.
Additionally, Ricks said a recent conversation at the parish council about forming a board to discuss mosquito abatement led to a number of calls to his office from people who thought a related tax was already being proposed. Ricks said he is concerned it may have been a distraction from the drainage election.
"I think there was some damage," he said. "I hope it was minimal."
Ricks said he does not know of any organized opposition to the tax proposals.
In the final weeks, Mack and Livingston-area council member Jeff Ard said they will be placing road signs, sending out a mailer and even going door-to-door. The council members said there is a possibility of setting up town hall meetings, as well. None have been scheduled so far.
"I think there's still a lot of people we need to reach out to and educate," Ard said. "Once I talk to them and explain what's going on … I get great feedback."
Early voting runs through Saturday. Election day is Nov. 18.