Jury delays drainage fee vote

The Pointe Coupee Parish Police Jury decided Tuesday night to postpone its vote on a proposed drainage fee after members were unable to agree on how best to handle the parish’s looming financial woes.

Jury President Melanie Bueche had asked jurors in October to consider approving a $5 per month drainage impact fee on residences throughout the parish to ward off a possible $600,000 annual shortfall in the $1.2 million drainage fund.

The proposed fee would generate about $525,000 annually, officials had said in previous reports.

But the jury put off acting on the proposed ordinance on a 9-3 vote after several jurors said they wouldn’t support drainage impact fees because doing so would put yet another financial burden on low-income residents.

When the jury adopted its 2013 fiscal year budget in December, it also approved a 10 percent rate increase for residential natural gas service.

The jury voted 11-1 on a separate ordinance Tuesday night to increase by 4 percent the service charge for residential trash collection.

The 4 percent hike will push the parish’s residential trash fee from $18 a month to $18.50, according to the ordinance.

The 4 percent increase is based on an escalating service charge called for in the parish’s contract with Progressive Waste Solutions, officials said previously.

Juror Russell Young asked the jury to table the motion for the $5 drainage fee because he hopes to reintroduce an amended version that would include an additional fee to establish a disaster relief fund for the parish.

Young said the parish’s finances have been crippled by unexpected spending related to hurricanes such as Katrina, Isaac and Gustav.

“We need a disaster fund because hurricanes are going to come again and if we have a little cushion set aside, we won’t have to wait around for FEMA to help us and it won’t deplete the money we have in our general fund,” Young said.

Jurors Justin Cox, Albert Dukes and Kurt Jarreau voted against tabling the drainage fee motion. They said they wanted to bring the measure to a vote because they believed there were enough votes on the jury to kill the drainage fee permanently.

“We need to be looking at the jury’s operations and be making some reductions before we ask the people to pay more money,” Cox said. “And I don’t know if a disaster fee is even legal. If it was, I’d think everyone in Louisiana would be doing it. To me, that’s just a tax in disguise.”

Dukes said his constituents prefer increasing the parish’s millage rate — which would have to be approved by parish voters.

According to a 2011 Louisiana Tax Commission report, Pointe Coupee Parish’s 54.8-mill property tax rate is the second-lowest in the state.

But Bueche and Parish Administrator Jim Bello said property owners in the parish would never vote in favor of a tax increase, especially since property values throughout the parish increased during the recent reassessment by the Tax Assessor’s Office.

“You are going to have a hard time trying to get the property owners that live around False River to vote on a millage increase when assessment values already went up,” Bueche said.

Although he opposed the $5 drainage impact fee, Bello said he was in favor of slashing the proposed fee to $2.50 a month per household because the parish is in dire need of immediate additional revenue.

“Drainage is one of the biggest things we do and you have no other resources out there,” Bellow said. “You can scrub the budget more, but you’re talking about cutting services. This (fee) wouldn’t really hurt anyone.”

Young told jurors he hopes to present an amended ordinance dealing with his proposed disaster relief fee during the Police Jury’s first meeting in February.

“Listen, I want an (increased) millage to pass, too, but I can’t control (voters) in that voting booth,” Young said. “I want a cushion (but) the rich don’t want to pay and the poor don’t want to pay.”