NEW ROADS — As expected, the Pointe Coupee Parish Police Jury on Tuesday amended its 2013 drainage impact fee ordinance, adding a sunset clause that will expire the service fee on June 30, 2016.
But the amendment’s 7-4 approval by the Police Jury came with a chorus of discord from a faction of jurors echoing opposition from residents who view the fee as the jury’s way of taxing residents without voter approval.
Jurors Albert Dukes, Russell Polar, Kurt Jarreau and Justin Cox voted against extending the $2.50 a month drainage fee another year and a half, mainly because it was understood when the fee was originally approved that it was supposed to expire within two years — in August 2015.
Jury President Melanie Bueche, who presented the fee as a fix to the parish’s strained drainage fund, said language stipulating the original sunset date somehow never made it into the ordinance.
The jury’s action Tuesday corrected that and also provided additional funds for parish coffers, which now depend on the annual revenue the fee generates to maintain drainage service.
“If we don’t pass this, it would be devastating to the Police Jury,” Bueche said. “Services would be cut. We would have tremendous layoffs. I don’t think people understand the importance of drainage. I’m not shooting you a line; I’m telling you the truth.”
Officials said the fee generates approximately $300,000 annually.
But Jarreau, who attempted to have the jury amend the ordinance honoring its original sunset date, said the parish should instead amend its fiscal year budget instead of levying more fees onto residents who opposed the fee.
Dukes, in opposing the measure, chided the jury for not pulling together a property tax increase proposal to present to parish voters.
Dukes has been adamant in the past that a property tax increase is the only way to cure the parish’s ongoing financial problems.
“Nobody had a doubt in their minds this fee was only supposed to be for two years so we could prepare and go to the people with a millage proposal,” he said. “We never did anything constructive as far as trying to put a tax proposal together, and that’s the reason we’re trying to extend this tonight.”
Dukes also said the parish hasn’t been collecting the monthly fee from all its residents.
The parish is being shortchanged some revenue in New Roads, where Mayor Robert Myer decided in October 2013 to stop billing city residents the monthly charge, which he called “a money grab” for the parish.
Bueche said Tuesday that she and parish officials have already met with several of the parish’s water district boards in rural areas to work out billing agreements.
“We are getting positive acceptance of them helping us by using their billing systems to collect the funds so we’re moving forward with this,” she said.
As for the city of New Roads, she added, “We haven’t approached them yet, but we’ll get to them.”
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