LIVINGSTON – It’s a case of the “haves” and the “have nots.”
Drainage services for some parts of Livingston Parish are supplied via funded drainage districts.
The services in Drainage District 1 cover the Denham Springs area from Beaver Creek in the north, to Gray’s Creek in the south.
Drainage District 2 primarily covers the unincorporated community of Watson, one of the most densely populated areas in the parish.
District 5 includes the Walker area, which has grown from a town to a city that has seen a boom in residential developments.
Two other drainage districts – Districts 6 and 7 – cover most of the parish, but neither has a funding mechanism.
Drainage District 1 operates off a half-cent sales tax, which brought in $1,742,183 during the 2017-18 fiscal year. After seven months of this fiscal year, it has taken in $1,038,831 – 1 percent less than the same period in 2017-18. In January, it took in $174,189, an increase of $30,815 over December. District 1 also has a 4.43 mills property tax that covers residences in its service area.
Drainage District 2 collected $1,069,838 off a half-cent sales tax for 2017-18. The tax has generated $624,974 for the first seven months, which is $271 more than the same period in 2017-18.
It took in $106,054 in January, an increase of $19,741 over December.
Drainage District 5 brought in $1,832,509 in 2017-18. After seven months in the current fiscal year, it has taken in $1,078,048 – 2.4 percent more than the same period in 2017-18.
In January, it took in $168,514, an increase of $23,358 over December.
For this fiscal year, Denham Springs has budgeted $109,594 for drainage work, while Walker’s public works budget has $150,000 earmarked for culvert replacements.
The three drainage districts account for only 20 percent of Livingston Parish. The other two districts rely on the parish Department of Public Works.
The most recent attempt to create a revenue stream for unfunded districts failed with voters.
District 6 covers the Livingston/Holden/Albany corridor. District 7 includes Port Vincent, French Settlement, Maurepas, Springfield, and Killian – areas along the Amite and Tickfaw rivers, all havens for flooding.
Parish Council members Jeff Ard, Jeff Averett, Tab Lobell, and Shane Mack represent the unfunded districts.
Drainage is a topic of frustration for some of the council members, who often receive complaint calls from residents during heavy rain events.
When unfunded districts call the parish Department of Public Works to clean ditches the requests go on a waiting list. With limited personnel and a long work list throughout a large parish, it becomes a matter of waiting, according to Mack.
Lobell considers it a “losing battle” to service 70 percent of the parish with limited crews and equipment. He did not criticize DPW for the dilemma, but he wishes the parish could afford three or four additional crews.
A tax may be the only solution, according to Averett, who said the long lists of requests that DPW receives is on top of its other litany of projects and duties. He said he believes residents will eventually need to face the reality that only a tax will fund gravity drainage exclusively for their part of the parish.
Averett said he finds a sense of irony in the anti-tax push, largely because the south end of the parish endures the brunt of the flooding. He said he sees it as an “East vs. West” scenario.
Ard, who represents District 1, faces a different situation. His district includes some areas covered by drainage districts and some which are not.
It’s an issue no other parish councilman faces. He knows the benefits from those who are in a drainage district, and the frustration from those who do not.
Council members in the other districts say they have seen the benefits of the drainage programs.
At its monthly meeting, Public Works Director Jody Stanford delivered a report to the Walker City Council. Among the items were how many feet of ditches have been cleaned and how many culverts have been replaced to help drainage.
In Denham Springs, city crews clear storm drains, ditches, and canals for water to flow better.
Both cities lie within gravity drainage districts, Denham Springs within Gravity Drainage District 1 and Walker in Gravity Drainage District 5.
What the four entities have in common – the cities budget funds for drainage work, while the drainage districts have half-cent sales taxes to fund their own projects.
Money coming in means workers can go out and address drainage needs.
Cooperation is a byword for Denham Springs, Walker and Drainage Districts 1 and 5, officials say.
“They work with us really well," Walker Mayor Jimmy Watson said of the city’s relationship with Drainage District 5.
“If we have an issue, we talk about it,” and find a solution, Watson said.
One example Watson cited was Walker takes care of the ditches in Sidney Hutchinson Park since the city fenced off the park.
While it falls under Drainage District 5, the mayor said the city has no problem taking care of the drainage.
In March 2018, the Denham Springs City Council approved a 10-year cooperative endeavor agreement with Drainage District 1.
A four-man crew from the drainage district work Monday through Thursday inside the city limits, General Manager Wesley Kinnebrew said.
Denham Springs workers handle roadside ditches, culverts, and storm drains, the drainage district crew handles the larger canals that feed water to the streams out of the city that are still part of the drainage district.
Meanwhile, in Walker, the city takes care of ditches parallel to streets, while Drainage District 5 handles perpendicular streets, Mayor Jimmy Watson said.
The district also handles subdivisions, bayous and creeks, the main tributaries that move water south of the city.
Council members whose districts include funded gravity drainage services are councilmen Garry “Frog” Talbert, of District 2, Maurice “Scooter” Keen of District 3, John Wascom of District 4, R.C. “Bubba” Harris of District 5 and Tracy Girlinghouse of District 7.
The drainage districts serve the areas well, they said, but challenges loom beyond “haves” and “have nots.”
Little room remains for development in Wascom’s district, within the city limits of Denham Springs. It’s another story in the other areas.
Girlinghouse’s areas have endured a boom in residential growth that has triggered concerns about the effect development plays on drainage, while parts of Harris’ district – particularly the south end of Denham Springs along 4-H Club Road – now figure as some of the fastest growing areas in the parish.
Some of the problems do not involve the current development, Talbert said. Some isolated areas of drainage problems stem from poor design in previous years.
Drainage issues in other areas stem from what he called “sins of the past” when builders did not consider the impact a development would have on residents upstream or downstream, or if the development drained adequately, Talbert said.
Opinions vary on how the parish should address drainage. They all agree it boils down to money.
Council members on the southern end of the parish say they believe a parishwide service would help, although they are not sure the tax would pass. They also believe it would continue to make it an issue of “East vs. West.”
Harris said he believes the solution lies in individual districts for each parish, which ensures the funds stay in those areas.
The remaining members also say the parishwide approach would work, although Keen said residents are “taxed out” and would not support it.
The parish could oversee each district through a method similar to the way each school district in Livingston Parish generates its own revenue, Talbert said.
It would be a tough sell, but a plan to bring the same level of service to every area of the parish needs to happen, Talbert said.
“The long-term impact would be tremendous,” he said.