The Jefferson Parish Council may be close to resolving an impasse over how to spend the nearly $35 million the parish received from this summer’s oil spill settlement with BP.
The council has been split for months over whether to spend the money strictly for the benefit of the coastal areas hardest hit by the 2010 oil spill or to use it to fund building projects throughout the parish and raises for government workers.
Two separate, nearly identical measures up for consideration at Wednesday’s Parish Council meeting aim at a compromise.
A resolution offered by Councilman Paul Johnston calls for directing $5 million to each of the five council districts, with the remaining $10 million to be used for projects aimed at combating coastal erosion and flooding.
A resolution from Councilman Ricky Templet — whose district includes the coastal communities of Grand Isle and Lafitte — would also direct $5 million to each council district and $10 million to fighting coastal erosion and flooding.
But Templet’s resolution spells out that he would dedicate his district’s $5 million to erosion and flooding projects, giving those initiatives a total of $15 million from the settlement. His resolution also says that the erosion and flooding money could be spent only in the two council districts that are closest to the Gulf of Mexico.
Both Templet and Johnston said they expect one of their resolutions to pass. The council then would introduce an ordinance giving the force of law to whichever resolution is approved.
The councilmen said they hope that setting aside the money for flood protection and coastal restoration could get the parish $45 million in matching funds from the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to use on low-lying areas such as Lafitte, Crown Point and Barataria, and that in turn could set up Jefferson for similar aid from the federal government.
“We’re going to try to explore the idea of multiplying these funds,” said Templet, who said he will give his district’s $5 million share to coastal restoration and flood protection no matter which resolution passes. “Any time we can get 3-to-1 money, that’s a good thing for taxpayers, I think.”
The Jefferson Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday afternoon urged the council to consider setting aside even more money for coastal areas than called for by Johnston’s and Templet’s resolutions. A statement from the chamber said allocating $20 million for the coast would still leave $3 million for each council district, some of which contain municipalities that already received hefty windfalls after settling their own lawsuits against BP.
It wasn’t clear Tuesday whether any amendments will be proposed for Johnston’s and Templet’s resolutions before they are voted on.
One reason a compromise is possible is that Parish President John Young’s administration said recently that raises for parish workers can be funded without dipping into the BP money.
Councilman Ben Zahn had suggested that some of the settlement should be used for cost-of-living raises for parish employees. But the administration said the raises can be financed by leaving some vacant government positions unfilled and reducing pension contributions, among other steps.
The raises will apply to 3,200 employees and will cost the parish about $6.7 million annually beginning in 2016, parish spokeswoman Kriss Fortunato said.
Zahn’s proposal ran into staunch opposition from Templet as well as Councilmen Elton Lagasse and Chris Roberts, who favored dedicating most — if not all — of the BP money to coastal restoration and flood protection in the southern part of the parish.
Zahn said the money should be distributed more broadly because it came from a settlement for parish tax revenue lost because of the spill rather than for damage done specifically to the coastal area.