HARVEY, LA (WVUE) - The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority is seeking a 5-mill property tax increase on the west bank of Jefferson Parish to help fund maintenance of the $4.1 billion flood protection complex recently completed by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The project was funded by the federal government, but the cash stops there. It's why the Flood Protection Authority is seeking a millage to raise enough money to keep the system running.
"We have a system that's four times larger than it was. We also have a system that has a lot of mechanical structures that weren't there - we have the largest pump station in the world, the largest sector gate - those things cost money to maintain," said Paul Dauphin, commissioner for the West Jefferson Levee District.
Dauphin argues that without the money, the system will suffer and flood insurance rates could rise.
"It threatens to decertify the flood system, the FEMA certification, we could lose," Dauphin said.
Bruce Layburn, a board member for the Greater New Orleans Home Builder's Association, thinks the system is paramount to protecting homes and making living in neighborhoods, often below sea level, affordable.
"That levee system protects our property and protects our livelihood, and it also is going to bring with it a reduction in flood insurance premiums that haven't been realized yet, but are just around the corner," Layburn said.
The proponents of the millage said a home worth about $250,000 would see a property tax increase of about $100 a year, but said that cost is offset by the possible flood insurance savings from a highly rated flood system.
"The premium saved, however, would be about $700 a year savings in flood premium. It seems to me to be a no-brainer," Layburn said.
The Jefferson Parish Republican party doesn't think the Flood Protection Authority needs the money. In a statement from Chairwoman Polly Thomas, the party urges residents to vote against the tax, saying: "The members believe that not enough information has been presented to the citizens to warrant raising property taxes for 30 years. In addition, the language of the proposition leaves open the potential use of the proceeds for purposes other than flood protection."
However, Dauphin argues new laws would keep the Authority from using the cash for anything but flood protection.
"One of the things the new law prevents from happening is to use funds like this for anything other than flood protection, so we're not going to get into building fountains and buying non-flood assets and things like that," Dauphin said.
The proposal will be on this Saturday's ballot, and if approved, would collect property taxes for 30 years.