Voters question levee tax, leaders ahead of April 29 election

Published 12:14 am Saturday, April 15, 2017

LAPLACE — While St. John the Baptist Parish residents may think an East Bank hurricane protection levee is needed, they aren’t too sure about where it’s supposed to go, how it’s going to be built or who should pay for it.

They also don’t have a lot of faith in parish officials.

That’s the take after L’OBSERVATEUR staffers spent Wednesday afternoon asking a random sampling of residents if they knew about the proposed levee project in St. John Parish, if they knew about the proposed 7-mill 30-year property tax that could help pay for it and if they were for it or against it.

Most, but not all, were aware there is an election scheduled for April 29. Generally, the older the resident, the more informed they were.

One of two young women on a smoke break from working at a local grocery store knew nothing about the election, the levee or the tax. The other heard about a levee, but not an election or a tax.

Ella Goudia of Garyville had not heard about either until questioned, but said she would support both. She did know there was an election coming up.

Outside of the property tax proposal that is open to residents parishwide, voters in District 7 must choose between candidates Thomas Malik and Steven Fraker for their Parish Council representative.

Buddy Boe, who resigned to serve as senior advisor and communications director to Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser, vacated the seat last year.

Select St. John voters are also able to participate in the election for state senator in District 2. There are 13 candidates vying to fill the seat once held by Troy Brown, who resigned in February following allegations of domestic abuse.

Joanne Jacob of LaPlace said she didn’t know about the proposed tax but added she heard “talk” about a levee.

“The levee is going to be where?” she asked.

The proposed levee would be built in the wetlands between Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas and the populated areas on the East Bank.

It would start out where the New Orleans system ends at the Bonnet Carré Spillway and moves west to cover all of St. John Parish and a portion of St. James Parish.

Jacob said her family owns a lot of property in the area.

“We get a lot of the backup (water) from everybody,” she said.

After that, the general consensus was, “we need a levee, not a tax” — as one responder put it.

“We do need a levee,” said Veda Bridges. “But how long is the tax for? Are we going to be taxed even after the levee is completed? Is it for the rest of our life?”

She then asked, “How much of the grant are we getting?”

Federal funding has not yet been allocated for the proposed $700-million plus project that has U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval.

Should the effort receive federal funding, St. John the Baptist Parish Government’s cost-share would be $50 million, with annual maintenance costs of $5 million.

Bridges also asked if the money from the tax would be used for anything else — “because you know they have back doors.”

The tax is earmarked for flood protection, including the possibility of a Parish-built levee if the federal project is nixed.

Alton Johnson of LaPlace said he is for the levee and will vote for the tax.

“I’d say it’s needed,” he said.

Jake Lyford has already voted for it via the early voting process.

“I absolutely think that everybody needs to pay for it, not just homeowners, like (Councilwoman) Julia Remondet said,” she said.

Hazel Scott of LaPlace said she would vote no, adding she believes she’ll be long gone by the time any levee is built.

“It’s really not going to matter,” she said. “I’m being honest.”

Scott then asked what has happened to all the money already collected.

“They used all the money they got the first time on surveying and all that,” she added. “By the time they’re finished with all the surveying, they won’t have anything left to build the levee. I don’t vote for nothing that raises the taxes because you don’t get anything for that. You never see it.”

Carol Keating of LaPlace said she is for the levee and supports the property tax if everyone pays their faire share.

“We definitely need it, but everyone who lives here should have to pay for it,” Keating said.

Early voting runs from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday through April 22 (except for Sunday) at the Registrar of Voters offices in the Percy Hebert Building in LaPlace and Edgard Courthouse.

Election Day polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. April 29 parishwide.