Parish Council members talk tax proposal
St. John the Baptist Parish voters are being asked April 29 to approve a new, 7-mill, 30-year property tax that area government leaders say is needed to fund the local cost-share of the proposed $700 million levee project.
L’OBSERVATEUR contacted each member of the St. John the Baptist Parish Council to get their takes on two questions in relation to the tax proposal:
1 – Are you in favor of the tax (why or why not)?
2 – Was there a possibility to create this funding by rolling back existing millages and seeking a rededication of those funds?
Kurt Becnel, District 1
I’m 100 percent in favor of it because this levee is really needed. If we don’t do it now, then when? I’m pleased to have it placed on the ballot and, hopefully, it will pass.
There is a possibility, if it comes down to that, we could explore creating funding by rolling back existing millages. But right now, as far as I’m concerned, we have not reached that point.
Julia Remondet, District 2
I’m for giving people of the Parish the opportunity to vote for funding a levee. First, let me start by saying some people have the impression this proposal for a levee is an overreaction to the flooding from Isaac. This Parish has been working towards a levee for St. John Parish for almost 40 years. This is not a new issue for our community. I believe if we don’t have a levee and our surrounding parishes do, we will be at a disadvantage.
I would like to see a way to share this cost with everyone in the Parish. This millage will bring in $2.9 million a year. To my knowledge, I don’t believe there are any other funding sources that could bring in this amount of funds. In any budget you can find programs or projects, from your view point, that you feel can reduce spending or be eliminated. However, there are none that can come close to generating this amount of funds.
Lennix Madere Jr., District 3
There has been some discussion about (alternatives), but I’m not too sure. At the end of the day, we have to come up with that money somehow. It’s there, we just need someone to release the money. We’ll look at every possible way.
I haven’t really had my mind on it too much yet. I know we need the money. I’m sure the administration will come up with it somehow.
Marvin Perrilloux, District 4
I’m in favor (of the tax) because without that funding I see no other funding available to support this levee.
We would have to sit down with our bonding attorney and see what else is available. I think that was done by Natalie Robottom. My concern was not hurting the residents. I’m not a tax person, but for $15 or $20 more added to your property tax, then I was good with that.
Michael Wright, District 5
It’s imperative for St. John Parish to generate a funding source to pay for the $50 million cost share and $5 million annual maintenance cost for the Hurricane Protection levee. We must have a funding source to receive federal funds to begin construction. These funds would be dedicated and could only be used for levee maintenance and match.
This cost is too burdensome for the Parish’s regular annual operating budget, which is mostly compromised of already dedicated funds. When a tax is dedicated, it can legally only be used for that specific dedicated purpose. If the tax passes, the parish will have the ability to look at other dedicated funding sources to possibly roll back millages to minimize the difference.
Larry Snyder, District 6
We’ve got to have the levee. All you have to do is look back a few yeas ago at what happened north of Airline Highway.
I’m also looking at some things we might be able to do, some cuts that might be made. We need a levee tax, but there might be other areas we could be looking at.
Raj Pannu, District 7
I am for (the levee). I’m not for the tax. I don’t like spending money. I know it’s important for all of us that we have the levee. It will make our homeowner’s insurance go down and our property values will go up.
We did have some discussion off the record (about alternatives). I’m sure there’s going to be some discussion on that, but if you look at the budget, we don’t have the money we need to have the levee built.
Larry Sorapuru Jr., Councilman at Large
Yes, I support the levee. I think it’s long overdue. We had more than 8,000 homes flood (with Isaac). I think it’s going to bring residents back to the community.
Alternatives? The bond attorney suggested we look at other possibilities. I think we need to do that.
Jaclyn Hotard, Councilwoman at Large
The devastation done by Hurricane Isaac to the residents of St. John will long remain fresh in our memories. With that being said, we must continue on the path of securing vital levee protection for our residents and business owners. This will include the funding of the Parish’s portion of the federal match (approximately $50 million).
I have had several conversations with the administration about rolling back other millages of healthy funds and also rolling back this millage once the levee only needs to be maintained to lessen the burden placed on our residents. If necessary, I will sponsor legislation to accomplish both. Raising taxes is never an ideal situation; however, this is our only option to ever completing the West Shore Levee and providing all of us with the protection we deserve.
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