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Livingston Parish residents filled the council chambers on Feb. 22, 2018, for a meeting about mosquito abatement.

LIVINGSTON — The new mosquito abatement district in the Denham Springs and Watson areas is moving forward with plans to pursue a major grant and a tax after the Livingston Parish Council took steps Thursday night to support it.

The district is applying for a $250,000 grant from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals that would help fund equipment, said Livingston Parish Emergency Management Director Mark Harrell.

In order to qualify for the grant money, the district needed the Parish Council to approve two resolutions that would allow it to secure long-term funding, Harrell said. 

Mosquito abatement has been a controversial issue for months, and council members debated the merits and popularity of such programs before finally voting to lend support. 

"If you don’t move forward tonight, I'm going to walk away from the grant," Harrell told the Parish Council before the votes were held.  

The Parish Council voted 6-2 in favor of providing $22,000 to the district for educational materials, testing and election costs. That amount represents two-ninths of the money left in the defunct paris-wide mosquito program account. The mosquito abatement program will cover only two of the nine council districts.

Council Members R.C. "Bubba" Harris and John Wascom voted against the resolution, while Jeff Averett was absent. 

The Parish Council also OK'd a resolution in favor of calling an election in May 2019 for an annual fee of up to $36 per tax bill in the mosquito district for abatement services. Wascom voted against it. 

The resolution was not an official call for an election. The parish still needs the state Legislature to pass a law authorizing it to collect a fee, as opposed to a millage. 

But Parish Council member Garry "Frog" Talbert, who has led the charge for a mosquito district, said he wanted the Council's approval before he moved forward.

"We did not want to make people do a lot of busywork if this council is not going to support it," he said.

Talbert said he is working with state Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, to get a bill passed in the coming legislative session. Talbert said he will soon begin writing a budget, holding public meetings and distributing pamphlets about the future program.

Livingston Parish Council agrees to split recreation funds, swats away mosquito request

Also Thursday night, the Parish Council considered its first industrial tax exemption request under a new state system that allows for local input on whether companies should be get a tax break on new investments.

The program allows companies an 80 percent tax exemption on local property taxes over a five-year period with a five-year renewal, if local entities agree. 

The exemption for PALA Interstate, a metal tank fabrication facility in the Springfield area, breezed through the Parish Council with a unanimous vote.

The company will spend from $2 million to $4 million upgrading the fabrication shop to build oil storage tanks and bring 20 jobs, said David Bennett, president and CEO of the Livingston Economic Development Council.

He said some of those employees will transfer from the company's other locations, and at least five jobs will be new.

The exact value of the tax exemption will depend on the investment in the project, Bennett said. 

Talbert said he supported the tax exemption because the company was bringing new jobs to the parish.

The tax break request has yet to go before the School Board and the sheriff.

Follow Caroline Grueskin on Twitter, @cgrueskin.