New St. John tax considered; greater flood protection comes with price, leaders say

Published 12:14 am Saturday, February 11, 2017

LAPLACE — Levee protection will be on the minds of St. John the Parish Council members when they convene for a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers.

The council is expected to discuss a potential increase in the ad valorem tax, which would require approval of the voters. The funds generated by the tax would be used to fund the massive West Shore Levee Project, which would significantly increase levee protection in a parish that has seen its share of flooding in the past several years.

The project is eligible for significant funding since it was included in the Water Infrastructure for the National Act in December. The act, which the U.S. Senate approved by a 78-21 margin, authorized nearly $10 billion of federal investment in a variety of storm water management projects.

According to parish officials, the ambitious West Shore Levee Project comes with a hefty price tag of nearly three quarters of a billion dollars, of which the federal government could potentially chip in with up to 65 percent of the total cost of $718 million. The parish is responsible for $50 million in the cost of construction and an estimated $5 annually for operation, maintenance, replacement and rehabilitation of the levee.

“Construction of this levee is long overdue and is needed to protect our residents and businesses, boost economic development and to help lower or at least maintain responsible flood insurance premiums,” Parish President Natalie Robottom told council members this week.

Councilman chairman Larry Snyder said, “We need to find the money somehow,” adding he believes the project would result in a 50 percent drop in flood insurance rates for many parish residents.

Robottom said the parish must first secure federal dollars, adding her office is working with the Congressional delegation. She said the only viable option for the parish’s share is through an ad valorem tax. She said her administration would also explore the possibility of utilizing taxes already on the rolls to direct to the project.

Robottom said the project is critical to the entire parish because if flood waters that seep in from nearby Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas cannot flow back out, everyone is impacted.

“We cannot continue to live with that,” she said, adding there are not many more flood events residents will endure and continue to want to live in St. John.

Council member Raj Pannu  recommended the parish be pro-active in marketing the potential tax and said the levee would be a “fortress for our homes.”

— By Richard Meek