Voters in Westwego will go to the polls May 2 to decide whether to increase their property taxes by 10 mills to fund the Fire Department and the city’s sewer and water service.
The City Council unanimously approved the election at a special meeting this week; plans to call it had been discussed at several recent meetings.
Mayor John Shaddinger made the case for the taxes, which would bring in just under $600,000 per year, during budget negotiations in recent months.
He said the six mills to fund new equipment purchases for the Fire Department are necessary because the department now has no dedicated revenue to replace its aging fleet, while the city’s water and sewer woes are a perennial issue, and the departments are projected to drain the general fund of about $300,000 this year, even after a 25 percent rate increase.
If the taxes fail, the council will have to revise the adopted 2015 budget, which counts on receipt of the revenue they will generate if they pass.
The council also decided to repair the city’s existing ramshackle water treatment facility rather than replace it, which was the plan for several years.
In November, Shaddinger and the council began talking about fixing the present facility after they found out the plant’s life could be extended by about 20 years with $3 million in repairs.
Councilman Glenn Green, a supporter of replacing the plant with a compact “package” plant, said it has proved too difficult to get the money for a new plant from the state and he is confident that Baton Rouge-based Environmental Engineering Services can do the appropriate repair work.
“I like the package plant, I still do, but it does not seem to be practical,” he said. “The state does not seem to be in favor of it, and we have to do something. The plant is old, but it’s what we’ve got and we have to bring it up to specifications. … We can’t keep waiting on the package plant.”
Green said the city already has some money to get the modernization work started and should be able to get $2.8 million in capital outlay funding from the state within the next year. Officials plan to seek bids in coming weeks to replace the water storage tank adjacent to the treatment plant.
Once that is done, Green said, the city can focus on what it needs to do to build the water tower necessary to improve water pressure on the south side of town — a reference to yet another of the city’s nagging infrastructure problems.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.