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DPW Drainage Maintenance North employee Billy McGowan operates an excavator to clear out a drainage way along and under LA-19 between Baker and Zachary Monday August 24, 2020, near Zachary, La. Truckloads of detritus was removed.

East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome is proposing a new fee to rake in steady funding to maintain drainage and prevent flooding.

Broome’s administration unveiled its plan during a presentation at Wednesday’s Metro Council meeting. Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kelvin Hill was unable to offer details on how much the fee will cost residents, but he said the city-parish hopes to raise roughly $40 million a year through the fee.

“That is something that we see across the country,” Hill said. “It’s not a new idea, but it’s an effective idea.”

Establishing the utility fee would allow the drainage department to double its workforce by hiring more employees and outside contractors. It would also allow it to buy new equipment to clean litter from storm drains and waterways and give the department the ability to vastly reduce a three-year backlog of maintenance requests, Hill said.

Broome’s plan is still in the early stages, and it will be more than half a year before an official proposal comes before the council, Hill said.

Along with the presentation, an item was introduced to the council Wednesday to allow the mayor’s office to contract with Black & Veatch Management Consulting for an assessment of how such a fee could be carried out and how much money it would need to raise to address the backlog.

The assessment will take roughly eight months once approved by the council, which will vote on the item in two weeks, Hill said. At that point, Broome’s office will present the council with a proposal.

The $40 million figure for addressing the backlog is a city-parish estimate, Hill said. The feasibility study will provide a detailed assessment of how much money is needed and how exactly to raise it, Hill said.

Hill outlined the troubles in the maintenance department, where a staff of just under 70 people is only able to address fewer or the same amount of requests for maintenance as the city-parish receives every single week using an annual budget of about $9 million.

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Discussions between Broome’s administration and Metro Council over how to address flooding woes have been ongoing for months after a series of severe floods have plagued the parish over the past several years. Addressing the drainage maintenance backlog has been a centerpiece of that discussion.

Roughly $22 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds have already been allocated to drainage needs as a temporary funding solution to address the backlog. A further $20 million from the second wave of the act’s funding has been proposed by Broome to go to drainage, although that must be approved by Metro Council.

Baton Rouge leaders are united in the idea that the city-parish needs dedicated funding for stormwater and drainage. But where that money comes from has been a sticking point.

Councilman Dwight Hudson pushed for a special election this fall to ask voters to divert funds from Baton Rouge’s library system and the Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control department for drainage maintenance. His proposal failed in July to gather enough support from his fellow members of the council, sending city-parish leaders back to the drawing board.

It was too early on Wednesday for Hudson to say whether or not he supports a dedicated stormwater utility fee, citing a city-parish budget that he says is overburdened with excess spending.

“Before I vote on any new taxes or new fees, I really want to see what our strategic plan is to address our root budgeting issues, then evaluate the plan from there,” Hudson said.

Council members Jennifer Racca and Aaron Moak were both skeptical of the $40 million price tag floated by Broome’s administration. Both said they wanted to see how far the soon-to-be $40 million in coronavirus stimulus funding would carry the department.

“Ultimately it comes to us to make the final decision,” Racca said. “For us on the council, we get to decide. It’s something we have to discuss and explore.”