Funding for drainage districts fails at polls

layton-soloTime, as always, just seems to be flying by. The Livingston Parish Fair held its 80th year in October; Halloween and Thanksgiving have come and gone and the Christmas season is here. I can’t help but wonder where did the year go? It seems like yesterday that the Fair Association announced that, due to the devastation of the flood, the 2016 fair would be cancelled. Their return to business this year was a huge success. A big “thank you” to Livingston Parish Fair Association President Lynn Sibley along with the other board members and volunteers, and to Rodeo Chairman Lonnie Watts, who also serves as grounds manager.

Livingston Parish is growing rapidly as evidenced by the residential and commercial construction seen all across the parish once again as we continue to move forward from the flood damage of 2016. It is because of the hard work and resilience of our people and the support of outside business interests that I am convinced we will continue to see this wonderful parish grow at the pace we have talked about for years.

Just as before, rapid growth brings not only excitement but also concern. We, as government leaders, must strive to provide the necessary infrastructure to sustain that growth. Along with the Livingston Parish Council, I intend to see that we meet those demands by working hard and anticipating the needs not only of today, but also tomorrow and years to come. We are planning and striving to provide drainage and roads that will meet those needs. The Council is working on drafting ordinances regarding planning and development as well.

One of the top priorities of parish government is doing everything in our power to prevent another flood event like the one experienced last year. All eyes have turned to our rivers, canals and drainage ditches to see exactly what can be done to ensure that these drainage systems keep up with the demands of additional growth even during weather events that inundate these systems with water.

As parish president, I have invested in equipment that will help us make major improvements to waterways under our jurisdiction. However, there are canals and ditches that we cannot legally access. That’s where the Gravity Drainage districts step in.

Prior to serving the public as an elected official of city and parish government, I was – more often than not – opposed to new tax proposals, just like voters today. Since serving in public office, I have come to realize that without the support of dedicated funds, government cannot operate. Without funding, it is impossible to pay salaries for people to do the work, much less purchase equipment to perform the necessary operations. I face this dilemma on a daily basis.

In many ways, our tax structure does not serve the public as well as it once did: what worked 10, 20 or 30 years ago no longer adequately funds all the needs of Livingston Parish today. And our needs just keep increasing.

So it is with our Gravity Drainage districts. Two of our districts have zero funding dollars, yet they face the task of making drainage improvements the same as the other districts that are funded. The proposed tax to fund these districts was defeated at the polls Nov. 18.

The solution is not an easy one. We can’t legally take funds dedicated for other purposes and redistribute them to fill a need. So these districts will remain unfunded and unable to do the most basic of drainage work such as keeping ditches open – any may likely be disbanded.

We all know firsthand that we are all connected. Water knows no boundaries and what doesn’t work right in one area will inevitably cause problems in other areas. If the drainage tax for these two districts had passed and funded these two districts, it would have been the first time that Livingston Parish would have had drainage districts able to perform drainage improvements across the entire parish. That would have been huge, as the districts would have been able to join the parish in our effort to improve and develop our drainage system.

I honestly am not surprised the tax failed. Disappointed, but not too surprised. I did think that if ever we could get a new drainage tax passed, now on the heels of the 2016 food, would be the time to do it. But the people have spoken; they don’t want any more taxes. They want us to do more with the tax dollars we have –  and that’s not always possible. But the council will move forward and do as much as we can with what we have, because I don’t see the tax being put back on the ballot anytime soon.

Parish government is planning major drainage work with the 60-plus million dollars we have been allocated from the flood of 2016. We will be announcing these plans as they are approved and funded by FEMA in the near future. Successfully preventing another catastrophic loss parish-wide will benefit everyone and increase property values.

So, as you can see, we will continue working hard for each of you not only to provide help today, but in the future as well, because, like the year ahead, the future is just around the corner.

God bless you all.

This column by Parish President Layton Ricks is a regular feature in the Journal. Contact the president’s office at 225-686-4400. or email comments or questions to him at info@livingstonparishla.gov. See the official parish government website www.livingstonparishla.gov for information on all parish offices and departments.