Sewer rate problem weighing heavily on Laque

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 7, 2000

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / October 7, 2000

HAHNVILLE – The albatross laid on Parish President Albert Laque’s neck – an upcoming massive sewer rate increase – is weighing heavy.

“I think the people understand it, but they don’t want to pay for it,” Laque said.

The current rate structure includes a base rate of $3 per month, plus $1.80per 1,000 gallons.

One proposed rate package would raise the usage rate to $4.05 per 1,000gallons. This translates into someone currently paying $15 per month tosuddenly have to pay $31 per month.

“It’s a crime!” Laque said. “Most of the people who voted for me are thoseleast able to pay.”He has been making the rounds of town hall meetings across St. CharlesParish for weeks, explaining the dilemma to outraged residents who are nevertheless pointing the finger at Laque.

While the two new regional sewage treatment plants were being built, the old system was being poorly maintained, with money being diverted elsewhere, Laque continued.

“If they had been keeping up with the maintenance, they would have run out of money sooner and they would have to had done something,” Laque continued. “Instead, there’s not one dime in the budget for even the$800,000-a-year increase in the electric costs.”What’s more, the new plants require 24-hour attention from better-trained employees, and “not one nickle was put in the budget for additional employees,” he added.

Finally, additional operation costs, above and beyond present costs, are calculated at $2 million per year, “with not one penny in the budget for that.”He exclaimed, “What would I have to do – win the lottery?” Council member Dee Abadie has been trumpeting an idea to use airport sales tax revenues now going into the General Fund to prop up the sewer system while rates could be gradually phased upward.

Unfortunately, that won’t fly, Laque said. The $11 million General Fund,according to the 2001 budget message, can’t afford the loss of those airport sales tax revenues. Sales taxes make up 51 percent of the GeneralFund revenues, but sales tax revenues are down by more than $2 million this year.

Most of that fund is taken up by mandated expenses, such as court system support costs, and a host of other funds whose budgets are largely personnel.

Slashing those office budgets would result in massive layoffs and a consequent slashing in parish services. “We’d have to just about shut down,”Laque said.

It is estimated that the accumulated fund balance will decrease over $8.8million from that in 1999. Expenditures from the General Fund rose 24.6percent in 1998 and 28.8 percent in 1999 and is expected to increase 20.6percent during 2000.

On Sept. 20, 1999, the Parish Council agreed to allocate $20 per day for 200parish prisoners in the new correctional center nearing completion, or $1,460,000 per year. This increases expenses by $690,000 in 2001 and$795,000 in 2002. What’s more, in 1999, $4.5 million went from the GeneralFund for the new jail and new 800 MHz radio system and, in 2000, $3.7 millionis being transferred to the sewer program.

“While the (previous) council is to blame,” Laque said, “where the president made a mistake was not forcing the issue. I didn’t ask for this, but I have tolive with it.”

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