The NOLA.com | Times-Picayune editorial board makes the following recommendations for the Nov. 21 ballot.
WEST JEFFERSON LEVEE DISTRICT PROPOSITION
To levy a 5.5 mill property tax for constructing and maintaining levees, flood protection, maintaining the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway West Closure Complex and debt obligations for those projects
ALGIERS LEVEE DISTRICT PROPOSITION
To renew a 6.35 mill property tax for constructing and maintaining levees, flood protection, maintaining the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway West Closure Complex and debt obligations for those projects
The greater New Orleans area has significantly better storm protection today than when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 and levees were overwhelmed. There is still more work to be done, though, and the levees, pumps and other flood projects built by the Army Corps of Engineers in the past decade must be maintained.
Those operating and maintenance costs, which are sizable, are our community’s responsibility. “Now that the federal government has made this major infrastructure investment, it is up to local residents to keep these improvements maintained and operating. These federally-funded improvements have expanded the Levee District’s responsibilities and its funding needs,” the Bureau of Governmental Research, which endorsed the taxes, said in a report released Tuesday.
The two millages on the ballot are essential to help pay for that work.
The West Jefferson Levee District and Algiers Levee District are both governed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-West, which was created post-Katrina to better coordinate storm protection. The authority has laid out a comprehensive plan for the money these taxes will produce.
The West Jefferson Levee District must pay 60 percent of the cost of operating and maintaining the new West Closure Complex, which includes massive gates and the world’s largest drainage pump station. The Algiers Levee District is responsible for another 20 percent, with Plaquemines Parish paying the remaining 20 percent. That is $1.2 million per year for West Jefferson and $400,000 per year for Algiers, starting this year.
In addition, levees must be raised to keep them at the proper height for flood protection and armored to minimize erosion. The first portion of that work, which will cost $26 million, will start this year and continue through 2016. The West Jefferson district has $13.9 million on hand to pay to lift the levees, but needs the new tax to cover the rest, BGR said.
The same thing will have to be done again starting in 2023 and is expected to cost $30 million.
“This work will help to maintain the elevation standards necessary to for the levees to remain certified for inclusion on federal flood insurance rate maps. If the elevation falls below the required level for a sustained period, insurance rates for properties within the system would be calculated as though there is no levee protection at all,” BGR said.
That can’t be allowed to happen, of course. Affordable flood insurance is vital to individual homeowners and businesses and to the economic well being of the entire region.
The West Jefferson Levee District also has large maintenance costs for the new flood gate/pump complexes at Bayou Segnette and the Harvey Canal. Both West Jefferson and Algiers taxes are needed to pay for essential surveys to check levee elevations every three years.
Algiers residents won’t pay any extra with the renewal of this tax. In the West Jefferson district, the owner of a $125,000 house with a homestead exemption will pay $27.50 more per year, according to BGR’s report. For each $100,000 of value above that, the new tax would cost homeowners $55 per year, BGR said.
When you consider the value in being protected from devastation, that really isn’t much.