By Cyndi Sellers
Only four Police Jurors were present for the Cameron Parish Police Jury meetings on Thursday, Sept. 16. The four absences were for medical and other reasons. Lacking a quorum, the panel could only listen to reports and discuss a few matters. The voting meeting agenda has been postponed until the next meeting date, Oct. 1. The Assessor is looking into the next available date for the Board of Review and adoption of the tax roll.
During the morning agenda meeting, Ralph Libersat, President of the Chenier Plain Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority, encouraged a “yes” vote on Constitutional Amendment 3. The Oct. 9 election has been postponed until Nov. 3 due to the damage caused to southeast Louisiana by Hurricane Ida.
Amendment 3 would allow the five levee districts created after 2006 to assess up to five mills of property tax, if the amendment is approved by the majority of voters in the state, the district, and all parishes within the district. The Chenier Plain Authority encompasses Calcasieu, Cameron, and Vermilion Parishes, with three board members from each parish. The other levee districts affected by this amendment are St. Tammany, Iberia, St. Mary, and Squirrel Run. Prior to 2006 all levee districts created by the state had the authority to assess a property tax of up to 5 mills. A constitutional amendment in 2006 eliminated this provision.
The Chenier Plain Authority and other districts were created in 2010, with no funding mechanism in place. A small seed money allotment has allowed the CPCRPA to function in an administrative fashion, but there was no money to do actual restoration/protection projects.
The Chenier Plain Authority adopted a Strategic Plan in 2017 to designate where any money it receives will be spent. A trust fund will be created, with half of the proceeds returned to the parishes based on a formula that includes coastal area and population. This money could be used by parish drainage districts, for example, or other needed local projects. The remaining 50 percent would be used by the Authority for operating expenses (3-5%) and to fund projects in the three parishes based upon a competitive funding system. Some of these projects could be multi-parish projects that serve to protect the entire region. The three parishes have been working together on needed projects already, such as the Rabbit Island restoration and East End Locks.
Estimates of tax dollars generated Cameron parish, based on 2016 assessments, range from $283,000-$1,415,000 depending on millage. Vermilion could generate $341,000-$1,705,000, and Calcasieu could generate $1,819,000-$9,090,000.
To be competitive in the bidding for state and federal funds, local levee districts need 10 to 45 percent matching funds. “Eastern parishes have matching funds,” Libersat said. “We don’t. A lot of federal and state money is coming to Louisiana, but with strings like matching funds or operating costs.” He said it is hard to pass a tax measure through a constitutional amendment, and he hopes education will help convince voters of the need.
Another amendment on the Nov. 3 ballot would put centralized sales tax collection in place for the entire state. Mike Michot of the Picard Group, Cameron Parish’s lobbying firm, explained that the measure, endorsed by business interests, would save Louisiana businesses money on paperwork and cut down on confusion around taxes owed over multiple city and parish jurisdictions. The service provided by the state would cost the local jurisdictions anywhere from 5-15% of the gross, but they would no longer be handling the tax collection themselves. Cameron Parish has no local sales tax and would not be affected, but if it ever does enact one it would be easy to administer, said Parish Administrator Katie Armentor.
Michot also reported that there is some interest in privatizing the Cameron Ferry in order to get better service, but DOTD Secretary Wilson seems “less than enthusiastic.” A new ferry is in the capital outlay budget but is still two or three years away from completion. Both houses of the legislature will have new chairmen of their transportation committees in the coming year, Michot said, so it remains to be seen which way this will go.
Legislative redistricting will be a big topic for the next few months, Michot said. The Louisiana legislature will redraw congressional, legislative, BESE, Public Service, and Judicial district boundaries following the 2020 Census.