A Livingston Parish councilman’s proposal to redirect money from library and roads taxes into a drainage solution was quickly and overwhelmingly quashed by his peers, who refused to bring the issue to the table.
Councilman Shane Mack's item at the council’s Thursday night meeting was a public notice to discuss the measure on Oct. 10.
All of the council members, bar John Wascom, vehemently opposed Mack’s suggestion, so much so that they voted to rescind Mack’s public notice of the hearing in October and stop it happening altogether.
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Though Mack was limited in the discussion allowed about the item, being a public notice rather than a discussion item, he maintained he wanted a chance to explain his funding proposal to the public and hear input before voting on whether to bring it to voters.
He told the council this proposal to rededicate some taxes “was an opportunity … to fix some problems in Livingston Parish," such as drainage and roads and other infrastructure. “I would like the opportunity on Oct. 10 to talk about the exact dollar figures that could be used. … We’re not even really giving the opportunity for the public to come here and discuss this.”
Mack was not able to present his plan at the meeting, but afterward he clarified that the proposal was to rededicate 3 of the library’s 10 mills in property taxes to be used instead for drainage and roads. He estimated the 3 mills would generate $1.5 million a year.
He also proposed splitting the current ¾ cent sales tax levied for roads and bridges to include drainage funding. He said the latter generates $13.5 million annually. The other ¼ cent of that tax generates funds for the jail, which he said would have been untouched in the drainage plan.
Drainage has long been a contentious issue in the parish, and is especially so in an election year with five of the council's nine members facing opponents in the Oct. 12 election. Early voting is Sept. 28-Oct. 5.
Between the widespread and devastating impacts of the 2016 flood and the influx of growth and construction in the parish in the years since, residents are often addressing the council with their worries about drainage. Mack said the funding would boost the existing gravity drainage districts and would fund a gravity drainage master plan, which has been much-discussed by the parish and master plan committee in the past.
Mack was visibly frustrated with the council’s immediate denial of his proposal, and said after the meeting his proposals would have used taxes already levied rather than imposing new ones.
Councilman Maurice “Scooter” Keen said in an interview prior to Thursday night’s meeting that the district Mack represents has in the past failed to pass a tax on itself to fund its own drainage districts. The parish does not have a parish-wide gravity drainage district, and most of the districts besides those on the east and south of the parish have voted to fund their own drainage districts through taxes, Keen said.
He agreed that drainage is a pressing issue for the parish, but said he believes the unfunded drainage districts need to get on board with funding drainage in their own areas before any parish-wide funds are reallocated to cover the entire parish.
“We’ve looked at parish-wide drainage and I wouldn’t want to force-feed any tax onto anybody,” Keen said.
Keen and other council members expressed their desire to bring a drainage funding issue to the voters, but said they don't want to rush the measure onto the ballot before it is well thought out.
Mack's proposal caused some stir on social media prior to the meeting once the agenda had been made public, but the proposal appeared to split residents between those who support the library and those who believe drainage needs to be addressed ahead of other endeavors like library funding. Council chambers Thursday night was close to full as some residents appeared frustrated at their inability to have their say.