BY AMY WOLD
Advocate staff writer
August 16, 2012
Officials overseeing levee and flood protection in the New Orleans area expressed concerns Wednesday about an attempt to redirect flood protection money at Thursday’s state Bond Commission hearing.
The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, Orleans Levee District wants a property tax renewal on the Nov. 6 ballot. However, board members expect opposition to the agenda item because of what they see as a desire to forward more money to the Orleans Levee District Division of Non-Flood Assets.
Someone requested that the property tax renewal item be removed from Thursday’s agenda, but it wasn’t removed because the person who requested the removal did not submit the agenda item, said Amber King, a spokeswoman with the state Department of the Treasury.
The Advocate submitted a public information request about who requested that the property tax renewal be removed from the agenda but it was not answered in time for deadline Wednesday.
State Rep. Jared Brossett, D-New Orleans, sent a letter to the state treasurer Tuesday opposing the property tax renewal agenda item because there is no reference to dedication of money for “non-revenue producing obligations along Lakeshore Drive and the Lakeview area of the Orleans Levee District in Orleans Parish.”
John Barry, vice president of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, said the 6.07 mills, 30-year tax renewal represents half of the authority’s budget and expires in 2015. The tax, if renewed, will generate about $12 million a year, he said.
“We were told this was always pro forma, and Tim (Doody, authority president) and I weren’t even going to go,” Barry said, referring to the hearing.
But Barry and Doody heard reports of opposition to the property tax renewal so they plan to attend the hearing, he said.
“They want tax revenue to go to them,” Barry said, speculating about the non-flood assets group’s motivation to oppose the agenda item. “They are actually trying to stop us from trying to put this before the voters in November.”
Louis Capo, director of the Orleans District Division of Non-Flood Assets, said there are no such opposition plans. “I’m not aware of anyone coming up there on our behalf,” Capo said Wednesday.
In addition, Capo said he wasn’t aware of any group that was planning to oppose the property tax renewal agenda item nor was he aware that someone had requested that the agenda item be removed.
Doody said he’s been informed that state Sen. Edwin Murray, D-New Orleans, has said he has the votes to kill the agenda item when it comes up. A call to Murray’s office wasn’t returned Wednesday.
“I can’t see how flood protection isn’t first on anyone’s mind,” Doody said. If the levee authority doesn’t have the money, he said, the responsibility for operating costs and cost shares for levee work in New Orleans falls on taxpayers.
Before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Orleans Levee District had many assets, such as the airport, a casino and real estate, Barry said. After Katrina, he said, Orleans Parish advocated for the separation of duties because of concerns that the real estate and other ventures had distracted the levee district from flood control duties.