LIVINGSTON – Parish funds allocated for drainage do not go far – in fact, they could not cover the average cost of a new car.
The parish budget for 2018 and 2019 allocated $26,274.58 for ditches, along with another $26,072 for bridges. The total budget for drainage in Livingston Parish totals $1,462,928, according to figures provided by Finance Director Jennifer Meyers.
The remaining revenue comes from five federal grants ranging from $43,526 to $394,405, while another $504,129 stems from the National Resource Conservation Service money.
The funds go toward upkeep in 75 percent of the 648 square miles of Livingston Parish that do not have a funded gravity drainage district.
The funded gravity drainage districts – 1, 2 and 5 – provide the Denham Springs, Walker, and Watson areas on a regular basis. All three generate funding off half-cent sales taxes.
It’s a different story for the unfunded areas. Municipalities and communities on the south and eastern portion of the parish rely on the parish's small amount of money – and their turn on the Department of Public Works' waiting list – for ditch cleaning and other services to improve water flow.
“I think we’re doing a good job with what we have, but obviously those dedicated funds for gravity drainage in those other areas make a difference,” Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks said.
The limited funds create a precarious balancing act, said Livingston Parish Public Works Director Sam Digriolamo.
Digriolamo said DPW and the parish include the drainage work with the parish’s capital overlay program, which takes away from the actual roadwork. The process leaves him no choice.
“If you don’t do the drainage with the road, you’re wasting your time repairing your surface,” he said.
The same applies to the bridge budget. Crews pipe the water to stop it from a washout where water dumps into canals, Digriolamo said.
A parish wide drainage program would make the process much easier for his department and the municipalities, but he does not see such a change any time in the future.
Even if a parish-wide program would come to fruition, it would bring its share of difficulties.
The parish would be able to clean more of the major canals, but rapid development of subdivisions along the north and south ends of the parish would make it a challenge, Digriolamo said.
The proposals that failed in 2017 would have brought services sooner and would have allowed for more cleanup work in the wooded areas which hamper the water flow, he said.
The lack of funding for the south end of the parish remains a sore spot for Larry O’Neill, chairman of the unfunded Livingston Parish Gravity Drainage District 7.
An anemic turnout the day of the election in November 2017 brought out the anti-tax crowd, but few others, he said.
“We have a situation where a lot of people just don’t care,” O’Neill said. “As long as they don’t have to pay for it, they’re happy.”
The residents of the unfunded areas already pay for drainage – but not their own, he said.
“Every time they shop in Denham Springs or Walker, they contribute to the half-cent sales tax,” O’Neill said. “They’re paying for others to have drainage, but don’t want it themselves.”