The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East needed only five minutes Thursday to conduct a special meeting and unanimously call a May 2 election to ask St. Bernard Parish residents a second time to raise the portion of their property taxes dedicated to drainage and storm protection.
The proposal seeks a 67 percent increase in the tax, from 11.1 mills to 18.6 mills. The hike would raise about $2.5 million more a year for the Lake Borgne Levee District, which is responsible for the operation and upkeep of St. Bernard Parish’s drainage system and its portions of the new $14 billion hurricane storm protection system ringing the east bank of the metropolitan area.
It would be the first increase in this property tax since 1994.
The same request won only 39 percent of the vote at an election in December. Levee officials said they’re asking voters to reconsider because the increase is an “emergency” measure to prevent the Lake Borgne District from going into debt in the next few years.
“We’re going back because this is absolutely essential to provide protection from hurricanes and floods for our people,” said Nick Cali, executive director of the Lake Borgne District.
The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East oversees operations and maintenance of the regional system. The cost is supposed to be paid jointly by property taxes in the Lake Borgne, East Jefferson and Orleans levee districts.
The latter two have raised enough money to cover their shares with smaller taxes of 3.91 and 6.21 mills respectively, mainly because their populations are far larger than St. Bernard’s. The Lake Borgne Levee District has struggled because St. Bernard’s population has been cut in half to about 35,000 since Hurricane Katrina.
Although the perimeter protection system was designed with a unified “one-for-all” model, state law prohibits taxes raised in one parish from being spent in another.
Cali said his district is not in the red, but that will change in the next few years as costs rise for maintaining the new system. His organization already is negotiating a $4 million loan from the Orleans Levee District to complete work on the 40 Arpent Canal levee.