The authority on Thursday also passed a motion authorizing the Orleans Levee District to loan the Lake Borgne Basin Levee District up to $4 million to fund the construction of a floodwall in the vicinity of the Violet Canal in order to meet FEMA requirements for certification. If the 7.5-mill tax increase for the Lake Borgne district passes, part of those funds would go to toward the loan's repayment.This is interesting because after St. Bernard voters turned down a millage proposal that would have mitigated the need for this loan, there was some concern about what to do. The separate political entities are technically forbidden from sharing funds, even though, in reality, they comprise one flood control system.
Without that FEMA certification, the National Flood Insurance Program could drastically raise insurance for St. Bernard homeowners, and those in the Lower 9th Ward, as FEMA would treat those properties as if there were no back levee at all protecting them, Estopinal explained.
Asked about repayment of that loan, though, authority President Stephen Estopinal made clear "that repayment is not a guarantee at this point in time" because of the millage increase's uncertainty. But the authority will include a promissory note with the loan, specifying that the Orleans district is owned the money and that the authority also would ask the Lake Borgne district annually where it was in terms of its repayment.
The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East was established specifically to oversee operations of the three levee districts that maintain this system. But state law prohibits taxes raised in one district from being used in another.
The more populated parishes of Orleans and Jefferson have surpluses. But St. Bernard has struggled to meet the demands of the southern end of the system.Looks like they found a way around that without having to increase the tax burden on the smaller, poorer, St. Bernard Parish. Naturally, they don't want to keep doing it that way.
The regional flood protection authority said New Orleans, with a property tax of 6.21 mills, collects about $16.3 million a year. East Jefferson’s 3.91 mills brings in about $8.8 million.
St. Bernard’s higher millage of 11.1 garners just $3.4 million because of its much smaller population and tax base.
Tyrone Ben, who represents St. Bernard on the authority, said he and others did make the rounds to educate voters on the Dec. 6 millage, but he pointed out that all the millages on that ballot failed. He called it "a referendum" against taxes in general, not just the levee tax.
"But I know we are going to do it again in May and I hope that we just sell it better," Ben said.
Turner said he is "committed to doing everything that I can personally do to make people aware of the situation with the Lake Borgne Levee system."
"We will redouble our efforts and try to get out into the community and make sure that people make the right decision," Turner said. "We just have to be out there to let people know what the world will look like from a flood protection perspective if we come up short and have to make significant cuts in the Lake Borgne levee system."