Part of library tax could go toward building levee
NEW IBERIA — The Iberia Parish Council voted 9-4 Wednesday to allow voters to decide on allocating 3/4 of a mill from the parish library system’s 6 mills to potentially fund a 26-mile levee project around the coastline.
The original resolution was to take 1.5 mills from the library and allocate that property tax money to the levee. After heated discussion from library board members, levee board members and concerned residents, Councilman Bernard Broussard introduced the substitute resolution.
“The library will continue to flourish even absent the 3/4 mills,” Broussard said. “I am more protective of the budget than a mother hen. I will not allow the libraries to be improperly funded. No one will be left exposed. No one will fall short.”
The library is allocated 6 mills, but it only uses 4.5 mills.
Kathleen Miles, director of the library system, gave an emotional speech asking the council to continue to allow the library to keep the 6 mills.
“As public servants, we must remember that we represent them, and not ourselves,” Miles said. “It is unclear rather or not the library will need those mills in the future.”
Miles has said the 4.5 mills generates about $2.2 million annually and the library system has about $3 million in its reserve fund.
Councilman David Ditch has proposed dedicating all or a portion of the unused 1.5 mills to fund projects of the Iberia Parish Levee, Hurricane and Conservation District.
Rep. Jeff Landry warned the council and residents that without a levee, Iberia Parish could cease to exist.
“I’m here to put everyone on notice,” Landry said. “Six mills won’t help (the library) if we continue to shed jobs. This isn’t about the library board or the levee board; this is about Iberia Parish.”
“The dangers are real,” he said. “This is an opportunity to protect.”
Iberia Parish has no flood protection in the way of a levee system.
State Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Erath, raised concerns about the eroding coastline and the potential for higher insurance rates if the levee isn’t built.
“Iberia Parish has not received a direct hit,” Champagne added. “Every person in this room wants to protect tourism, wildlife and fisheries and jobs. If you truly think about the jobs we are protecting along our coastline, the levee has to be built.”
“I can’t guarantee you when, but I know another storm will hit,” she said. “We have no mechanism to bring in dollars (from the state) because we have nothing to match it with.”
The levee project calls for building an 18-foot-tall levee from the Iberia and Vermilion parish lines to the Commercial Canal and a 14-foot levee going east from the canal to the St. Mary Parish line.
This spring, voters rejected a 5-mill property tax and half-cent sales tax to pay a for 26-mile levee along the parish’s coastal border to protect against tidal surges caused by tropical storms and hurricanes. The property tax proposition failed by 12 votes, while the half-cent sales tax failed by 207 votes.
“The people have already voted against this levee tax,” said Councilman Lloyd Brown. “I don’t want the people to think they didn’t understand what they voted for the first time.”
Voting against the 3/4-mill resolution were Brown, Maggie Daniels, Glenn Romero and Aquicline Rener-Arnold.
Voting for the 3/4-mill resolution were David Ditch, Broussard, Curtis Boudoin, Thomas Landry, Troy Comeaux, Ricky Gonsoulin, Roger Duncan, Marty Trahan and David Wayne Romero.
Jerome Fitch did not vote.
Members of the library board, including Miles, said they would be willing to work with the levee board to educate voters and get the levee tax passed.