NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Nicholas Cali, executive director of the Lake Borgne Basin Levee District, is on a mission. He's asking voters in St. Bernard to pass a proposed tax increase that he says is crucial for levee protection.
"It's for the operation and maintenance of the new system. The Corps of Engineers came in and they built a $1.4 billion system after Katrina. It's there. It's constructed. And now the operations and maintenance responsibilities are coming to the non-federal response. That's us," Cali said.
Cali said the Levee District is still operating with pre-Katrina revenues, but more is needed to maintain the system in St. Bernard. Voters shot down the 30-year, 7.5 mill tax increase back in December, but they'll reconsider the tax in May.
"So for a person that owns a $150,000 home, we're talking about $4 and .50 cents extra a month," Cali said.
"I think the average homeowner is tired of being taxed for everything. We have less property owners now than we did before Hurricane Katrina," voter Judy Hoffmeister said.
"This is going to be quite an increase for land owners and landlords," Wilvar Gross said.
Voters say it'll be a tough sell.
"We want to be able to protect St. Bernard, but I think this millage is not only protecting St. Bernard, it's protecting all of us. If you look at the levee track, it goes though Jefferson Parish, Plaquemines and Orleans, so why are we the only ones that have to foot the bill?" Hoffmeister said.
Cali, though, insists the money raised in St. Bernard will only go toward the levee system in St. Bernard.
He says if the millage doesn't pass, he'll have to lay off 50 percent of his pump operators.
"You will see an increase in flooding from rain because we will not be able to man the pump stations and maintain the drainage canals that we have been doing," Cali said.
He said in the long-term, the complex system will suffer, and flood insurance may increase. Still, not all voters are convinced.
"Every year, it's less for me and more for the government and the insurance companies, so it's just gotten to the point where I have to say no," Gross said.
"I'm still an undecided voter, but since it's the only thing on the ballot, they really need to get their people out," Hoffmeister said.
The measure will be on the May 2 ballot.