St. Charles Parish voters will decide May 2 on three property tax requests and a $42 million bond issue for the school system that would largely pay for a new performing arts center.
The parishwide ballot includes a new 4-mill, 30-year property tax that would raise $4.8 million annually for flood protection projects; renewal of an existing 2.2-mill property tax to generate more than $2.6 million annually for waste facilities; and a new .7-mill tax to raise an annual $843,000 for the Arc of St. Charles, which provides services for citizens with developmental or physical disabilities.
Parish officials are not taking a position on the Arc proposal.
The two parish millage proposals together would cost the owner of a $175,000 house with a homestead exemption about $36 a year, officials said.
The 4-mill tax money would give St. Charles officials a dedicated funding source to pay for proposed flood protection projects, which may take 15 years to finish. The parish would be able to generate $87 million from bonds by 2026 and could leverage those funds to secure $70 million in potential state grants and other revenues, officials said.
The money would go to constructing, maintaining and operating levees and flood protection infrastructure.
The projects would include two pump stations on the East Bank hurricane protection levee, building the West Bank levee from Des Allemands to Luling, and covering the parish’s share of the costs of the federal West Bank and West Shore levees.
“Washington’s broke. Our state is $1.5 billion in the hole. If we’re going to have any hopes of ever getting flood protection to lower our flood insurance premiums, we’ve got to do something on our own,” Parish President V.J. St. Pierre said in an interview.
The permitting for the projects is done, he said, and the land is cleared. “We’re shovel-ready,” he said. “If this millage passes, we’ll have the money to meet the match of the federal government.”
All told, the flood-protection work is slated to cost about $300 million, he said. Nearly $35 million of local money has already been spent.
The 2.2-mill tax renewal would pay for maintaining and operating the parish’s sewer facilities.
Parish officials say the mostly fee-supported operations need a financial boost to cover necessary upgrades and improvements, which may total more than $40 million. The millage could generate up to $47 million by 2022 through the sale of bonds, they say.
St. Charles Parish officials have scheduled two public meetings to offer information on the two proposals.
The meetings are set for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the American Legion Hall, 12188 River Road, St. Rose, and at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Edward A. Dufresne Community Center, 274 Judge Edward Dufresne Parkway, Luling.
Besides the new $35 million performing arts center, money from the schools’ bond issue would pay for about $4 million in renovations at Lakewood Elementary School in Luling and Albert Cammon Middle School in St. Rose; about $1.6 million to upgrade lighting at elementary schools throughout the parish; and $850,000 to make safety improvements at parish schools.
Safety upgrades are to include installing an electronic system that would manage school visitors by scanning driver’s licenses to run the information against the national sex offender registry. It also would print detailed visitor passes that include a photograph, and it would keep an electronic log of school visits.
The money also would pay to double the nearly 440 cameras that are installed throughout the school system.
But the bulk of the money — $35 million — would go toward the 1,300-seat arts center, which would be built on Judge Edward Dufresne Parkway near R.K. Smith Middle School in Luling.
St. Charles Schools Superintendent Felecia Gomez-Walker said the center would give administrators options beyond having to cram students into auditoriums at the parish’s two high schools in Destrehan and Hahnville. Those auditoriums are half the size of the proposed arts center, she said.
“We have made do in the past,” she said. “What we’re seeing is that elementary and many of the middle schools have to book the auditoriums at the high schools, which have a larger seating capacity, for their performances, and as you can imagine, those auditoriums are heavily booked.”
Community groups also could use the center, which would feature additional classroom space and a smaller theater and dance area, she said.
“We’re going to determine what are the best ways for us to secure our school buildings for safety and security purposes during the day, but also to allow access to the public after school hours for recreational purposes,” she said.
The schools’ last bond issue — which paid for $45 million in construction to eliminate portable classroom buildings at nine schools — was passed in 2012.
Meanwhile, Arc officials say, new federal mandates — including a requirement to hire a registered nurse — accompanied by falling state and federal funding have strained the Arc of St. Charles’ $3 million budget, which has pushed the group to seek the millage.
“The funding source is constantly being cut on both levels, yet the requirements to keep the programs are constantly growing bigger and bigger,” said Raven LaBiche, the organization’s vocational services director.
LaBiche said the group has run a deficit in recent years. In 2010, it was about $17,000. It doubled a year later and last year jumped to more than $230,000. It may hit more than $250,000 this year, she said.
If the millage fails, she said, the organization will be forced to cut services.
“It’s already a struggle to be able to meet the demands of the community,” she said. “If we don’t get this millage, then we would have to seriously look at what programs we could keep.”
Early voting is set for 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 18-25 at the Registrar of Voters Office, 15045 River Road, Hahnville, and the Arterbury Building, 14564 River Road, New Sarpy.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.