Levee tax heads to voters: St. John election set for April 29

Published 12:16 am Saturday, February 18, 2017

LAPLACE — St. John Government leaders say they’ve waited for more than 40 years to begin construction on a needed levee. Now they’re down to 71 days to convince residents to fund a portion of it.

St. John the Baptist Parish Council members approved a special election April 29, where local voters will be asked to approve a new, 7-mills Ad Valorem (property) tax.

If approved, Parish officials said it would generate approximately $3 million in its first year and be first assessed on taxes collected in January, 2018.

Although no Parish Council member spoke in favor of or against the tax during a special meeting Tuesday, the Board unanimously approved the measure to go before voters.

Division B Councilwoman at Large Jaclyn Hotard was absent from this week’s meeting.


Widespread support will take work after voters, just nine weeks ago, approved a parishwide .25 percent sales tax increase to benefit St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools.

That measure, having already failed once in 2016, passed Dec. 10 by a tight 4,594 to 4,513 margin.

Numerous responders took to L’OBSERVATEUR’s Facebook page this week to voice their displeasure with the tax proposal.

One user said: “I think we pay enough taxes in this parish already. Did we really need a new government building? When are we going to live within our means?”

Another responder said: “We desperately NEED the levee. However, I’m still wondering where the money for the new buildings came from. I don’t ever remember voting for that construction. Seriously, where are those funds coming from?”

One resident questioned why West Bank residents were being asked to fund the tax, while another asked why Parish leaders were seeking the tax ahead of more concrete commitments from federal partners to pay for their share of the investment.

The project is comprised of 18 miles of earthen levees, flood walls and pump stations between the Bonnet Carre Spillway in Montz and Hope Canal in Garyville.

Parish President Natalie Robottom said the total project cost is estimated at $718 million, with a federal cost-share of 65 percent and a non-federal cost-share of 35 percent.

“St. John is responsible for 20 percent of the non-federal cost-share for construction and an estimated $5 million annually for operation, maintenance, repair, replacement and rehabilitation of the levee, which is estimated to be $50 million,” Robottom said. “Residents and businesses will get the protection they need, economic development will be encouraged and flood insurance rates will be maintained or reduced.

“We’ve discussed this for some time. This is our opportunity to start preparing for the parish’s cost share.”

According to Robottom, current figures from the assessor’s office indicate residents with a home valued at $100,000 would see a yearly tax increase of $17.50 if voters approve the new tax. Residents with homes valued at $500,000 would see a yearly tax increase of  $297.50.

Why property taxes?

Hugh Martin, the parish’s bond attorney from Foley & Judell, told Council members this week a property tax was the best source of funding available to provide the money needed for levee protection.

“We felt sales taxes were pretty heavy in the parish already,” he said.

In terms of fairness and the ability for people to pay, Robottom said an ad valorem tax works better and does not require the Louisiana legislative approval a sales tax would have needed to generate this amount.

“Keep in mind that we are still looking at water system improvements, as well,” Robottom told L’OBSERVATEUR after Tuesday’s special meeting. “That is another big ticket item, so with regard to this, this was the surest and simplest way to take care of our levee.

“It’s finally moving forward, and that is after 40-something years. We feel very good about the project coming to fruition.”