Attempt to Authorize Spending Jefferson and Orleans Tax Dollar in St. Bernard Stalled

Local state senators have halted House Bill 438, which could allow property taxes collected for exclusive use of hurricane, levees, and flood protection collected in Jefferson and Orleans to be used for local drainage projects in another parish.

With opposition from Sen. John Alario, Jr., Sen. Danny Martiny, Sen. J.P. Morrell, Sen. Troy Carter, and Sen Conrad Appel, the bill was returned to the calendar, but it can be brought up again until the session adjourns on June 8, 2017.

The summary at the top of the bill states that it “Authorizes flood protection authority spending across various levee districts.” The bill is to assist St. Bernard Parish (the Lake Borne Levee District) at the cost of Jefferson and Orleans parishes. Of the three parishes which would be affected, Jefferson and Orleans residents pay millages for hurricane, levees, and flood protection projects and maintenance, which have substantially increased since Katrina. In addition, Jefferson and Orleans residents also pay separate additional taxes for their own internal street drainage and pumping through Jefferson’s consolidated drainage districts and the N.O. Sewerage and Water Board.

St. Bernard, however, pays flood millages only, which have not increased since before Katrina. St. Bernard’s millage raises $3.4 million, which is only 6.8 % of the total revenue by the three parishes, not including revenues from the West Bank. Unlike Jefferson and Orleans, St. Bernard does not pay any additional millage or other tax for its own internal street drainage and pumping.

Hurricane, flood, and levee protection system revenues are raised by specific property tax millages which may only be used for that purpose. Passage of the bill would, as its summary indicates, allow money collected in certain levee districts (Jefferson and Orleans) to be spent in another levee district (St. Bernard). In effect, this would subsidize St. Bernard’s own internal drainage problem which it has twice refused to fund.

The bill also contains a new provision for distributing costs “on a proportional basis determined by the value of the property in each levee district.” According to a memo by Bob Turner, Regional Director and a former resident of St. Bernard, this would lower St. Bernard’s contribution to under $1 million for a federal system which costs in excess of $17 million per year to operate and maintain.

As the Senate got closer to taking up the bill, Sen. Alario made it known that he intended to offer an amendment to exclude the West Bank flood authority from the bill. Sen. Martiny said he would offer an amendment to exclude East Jefferson from the bill, and Sens. Carter and Morrell would similarly exclude all of Orleans from the bill. The Senate returned the bill to the calendar without debate.The author of the bill is Rep. Jerome Zeringue of Houma, who lists his occupation as a coastal consultant. It is not known why he is aggressively pushing a bill which effects expenditures in three parishes which he does not represent.

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