Tax passes: St. John turns to state, feds for major funding

Published 12:13 am Wednesday, May 3, 2017

LAPLACE — Parish Government leaders successfully lobbied support from local voters, now they’re turning their attention to state and national representatives.

The topic is flood protection through levee construction, and parish voters (albeit in small turnout) approved a new property tax Saturday to generate the local share of a gargantuan $718 million storm protection levee between the East Bank of St. John the Baptist Parish and lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas.

St. John Parish President Natalie Robottom said she is working this week to persuade state legislators to pass the Coastal Master Plan.

Robottom said the effort is updated every five years and includes the plan to increase St. John flood protection through levee construction.

“The most important thing right now is to get that plan approved,” she said. “We want our delegation to support it. Ultimately, we want the floor of both the (Louisiana) House and Senate to approve this plan. It is a good plan. It considers the entire state and how one project impacts another. It’s critical to have that plan to access federal funding.”

Robottom said her staff, as well as Parish Council members, are also doubling down on efforts to push the region’s U.S. legislative delegation to provide federal funding to the U.S. Corps of Engineers budget, allowing the project to begin this year.

“It’s not about just starting to turn dirt,” Robottom said. “There is a lot of work that has to be done before that. We need to start surveying and acquiring property. We have to mitigate that property. We have to finalize our design; all things that won’t cost us the full amount of the budget but is going to cost something.”

Those steps are far more likely to occur, Parish leaders say, now that voters approved a 30-year dedicated funding source to cover the local cost-share of $50 million and annual maintenance costs of $5 million.

Voters did so Saturday by approving a 7-mill property tax by a 3,019-to-1,788 margin, representing 63 percent favored the tax. According to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office, just more than 16 percent of eligible voters participated in Saturday’s election.

How it passed

Robottom acknowledged local voters’ appetite for new taxes was not strong heading into the weekend’s vote.

To combat that reality and negative sentiments expressed on social media, St. John officials were transparent in their desire for tax approval April 29.

Parish leaders spoke at numerous town halls and community gatherings, while Robottom and Parish Council members presented a unified front in advocating for the tax in numerous interviews with L’OBSERVATEUR and other media outlets.

Advertising was also included in the public relations push.

Following the election’s passing, Robottom spoke of a team effort, mentioning the work of Chief Administrative Officer Laverne Toombs, Communications Director Baileigh Rebowe Helm, Sheriff Mike Tregre and Assessor Lucien J. Gauff III.

“We are pleased the people took the information,” Robottom said.

“They did ask a lot of questions. We made every effort to make sure they had good responses.

“We don’t try to hide. There are some people who do a special election and just want their people to get out so they will keep it low profile. That has not been our strategy for any of the elections. We’ve been very successful by doing it this way. We run an informational campaign.”

Early voters favored the measure 743 to 410, while 27 of the Parish’s 39 precincts favored the effort Saturday.

“We have to keep the pedal to the medal,” Robottom said. “We have to keep pushing. This is one more step, but we are not truly finished until we have a levee that is protecting us.

“I thank all the folks that actually have faith in the information we provided. They continue to support things that are good for the parish. I thank the voters and my staff, who lived and breathed this for the last six months.”