Harahan — Despite his city’s well-known, fiscally conservative bent, Harahan Mayor Provino “Vinnie” Mosca is hoping to persuade residents and the Harahan City Council to approve a new sewer user fee and property tax millages in the upcoming months.
The new taxes and fees are part of Mosca’s plan to create funding for capital improvements in the aging city and to eliminate subsidies from the city’s general fund to the sewer plant. Harahan provides about $180,000 in subsidies to the sewer plant annually, and Mosca said that could be eliminated with a $50 to $60 annual fee paid by residents. The council is set to discuss the new fee on Thursday, but Mosca thinks it may take a while to get approved.
“The bureaucratic wheels are very slow,” Mosca said
Councilman Tim Baudier said Mosca has made the case for the sewer fee, but that doesn’t make Baudier happy about voting for it. Baudier expects residents to oppose all of the increases, and he understands their reservations. He doesn’t support the changes either, but he recognizes that the new sewer fee is still needed.
“I wouldn’t say I’m for it, but we’re at a necessary evil,” Baudier said. “Wherever you go, you’re going to get some complaints.”
Councilwoman Cindy Murray said the plant should be able to operate on its own without subsidies. Residents receive a service, and they should pay the cost of that service.
“Basically it should work on its own,” Murray said. “It should be self-sustaining.”
But while Mosca’s new sewage fee might have lukewarm support, his push to create two new property taxes is likely to create a serious uproar. Mosca wants to create a 3-mill tax for the Police Department and increase the mills dedicated to the sewer plant to 2 mills. Currently the sewer millage is 0.89 mills, and each mill in Harahan typically generates about $70,000 in revenue.
Mosca said he’s seeking the new police millage to create a fund for purchasing new police vehicles and to offset some salary costs. The department purchases most of its vehicles used, which increases repair costs and down time. Police Chief Jacob “Mac” Dickinson said the 29-officer department is operating on a shoestring budget, and any increase would be a huge boon.
“The money’s always been a constant problem,” Dickinson said. “People live in Harahan because it’s safe. In order to operate as an effective police department, we need the money.”
Mosca would like to use the increased sewer millage as collateral for a $4 million loan from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. That loan would pay for improvements to the plant and to the city’s sewer infrastructure. Like many small municipalities, Harahan’s sewer plant is more than 50 years old, and groundwater infiltration is a huge problem in its underground sewer piping.
Mosca said that persuading residents to support new taxes will be difficult. He likes to joke that he’s been elected so many times because he’s always generous with the meatballs at his annual spaghetti dinner, but even he admitted it will take huge amount of meat to sell Harahan’s residents on higher taxes. Murray said that residents will likely feel bombarded with new fees if all three of Mosca’s proposals receive council approval, but she understands the need at the sewer plant.
“I don’t know if the city can afford to do it, and I don’t know if the city can afford not to do it,” Murray said, noting that with the current sewer system new residential or commercial development is impossible.
Mosca said that if residents want their city to grow and improve, they need to be willing to spend money. He joked that the city’s $5.3 million annual budget is less than what some high schools spend annually.
“It’s a Band-Aid operation, every day robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Mosca said. “If (residents) want the quality of life, they have to pay for it. We have to raise millages.”