ASCENSION PARISH, LA (WAFB) - An old property tax is up for renewal in Ascension Parish. It has been on the books for 60 years, but parish leaders say since the August 2016 flood, it’s more important than ever.
There are hundreds of ditches that run through Ascension Parish. If you didn’t notice them before, perhaps the historic flood opened your eyes. Infrastructure Division Director William Daniel says it got his attention. “I have never seen something as gut wrenching, and just when you are absolutely unable to do anything to help and you know the water is coming, it is a horrible feeling,” he said.
Getting that water out took strategy. Pumping stations worked overtime, flood gates were opened and closed, and water was diverted away from homes, but backed up ditches and storm debris made drainage a challenge. Engineers say the Department of Public Works has received an overwhelming number of calls from residents requesting help. “There is a significant backlog in drainage,” Daniel said.
An estimated 1,000 miles worth of ditch maintenance is paid for through a 5 mills property tax voters have been approving since 1958. The parish recently hired a private contractor to catch up on some of the work, but that money also helps maintain flood control structures and a lot of the off-road ditches you can’t see from the road. Daniel says since the 2016 flood, engineers have learned more about protecting property. “Now when we look at where the water comes in, we have a pretty good idea of how it’s going to move and how it’s going to react in terms of moving to the different waterways in the parish,” Daniel said.
If voters do not approve the tax renewal, Daniel says the parish would have to tap into its capital outlay funds, which come from a half cent sales tax to pay for long term projects like new pumping stations and levees. It’s something he says they simply cannot afford to do. “I think the floods of 2016 emphasized how important it is to take care of drainage in this parish,” Daniel said.
The property tax costs the average homeowner an estimated $65 a year. If voters renew it on November 6, it would be extended through 2028.