The year 2018 was interesting from just about any parishwide perspective. Abundant questions were posited as the 550-square-mile “free state” entered a real post-flood scenario – homes, for the most part, were repaired, and new cars were purchased.   

So – would the schools continue to roll after the flood? Would people continue to move to Livingston Parish? Would business?

Well, with the full picture of 2018 in the rearview mirror – the answer is a resounding “yes,” which brings a little column “good,” and a little column “bad.”

The good is, of course, that the answer to all of those questions is “yes.” The school system announced that all but three flooded campuses were finished, and that the three that were substantially damaged – Denham Springs Elementary, Southside Elementary, and Southside Junior High – would be demolished and rebuilt “better than ever.”

And, while Walker High didn’t take as much water as some of the Denham Springs campuses, it was returned to working order and opened up its new buildings in 2018 – results of a property tax millage passed in 2014.

People continuing to move in? By the droves, apparently. A total of 781 new-home permits were issued by the parish alone in 2018, with most growth coming to the 70726, 70706, and 70785 ZIP codes (Denham, Watson, Walker, respectively). Those three ZIP codes comprised 78 percent of all new homes built.

The population has grown from a pre-flood estimate of 135,000 to nearly 147,000.

Those new-home permits do not include multi-family dwellings, such as apartment complexes or mobile home parks. Those are considered “commercial” developments – and several were completed in 2018, especially in the Juban and Buddy Ellis areas.

As far as business – those three ZIP codes have, again, taken the lion’s share of development as the parish issued “new” commercial permits in 2018. Remember that these can include trailer parks and multi-family developments but show that quite a few jobs are coming to Livingston Parish. One need only look throughout Denham Springs to see the renovated Livingston Square and new slabs being poured at Bass Pro.

Juban Crossing and its sister Juban Marketplace are growing at the next exit, while All-Star Kia and Nissan have opened their doors for anyone interested in a car. The La. 16 corridor moving toward Watson continues to add businesses on either side of the highway; U.S. 190 between Denham Springs and Walker has become packed and, well, if you’re from Walker the situation on La. 447 is well known – wall-to-wall business.

So, what’s the deal? Why does there seem to be a pall surrounding current residents about the rate of growth in Livingston Parish?

Infrastructure is probably first and foremost among the gripes, as substandard drainage and roads continue to be a major issue moving forward – especially when one considers the state of Buddy Ellis, just off Juban, and the fact that new homes and multi-family developments were all approved for the thoroughfare in 2018.

Much of those improvements should come from taxes, sales and property.

Livingston Parish has dropped to ninth overall in Louisiana with regard to property tax rates and, combined with homestead exemption, the state of roads throughout the parish should show you that this source of revenue simply isn’t enough. So, if the current revenue doesn’t add up, one can assume that future houses built will bring more property tax to local coffers – but won’t quite cover the cost of some projects.

There are, currently, 40 property tax-collecting entities in Livingston Parish – this does not include sales tax. Some of them are localized, some of them are parishwide, but in many cases folks focused on drainage in their area won’t get it – simply because there’s no money being collected in that area for that specific task.

Something that isn’t spelled out well on a regular basis.

On the other hand, the parish collects both a property and sales tax piece for the road program – and yet, many roads have fallen into disrepair or are substandard for the population they serve. Sure, time is a factor in repairing individual streets and highways, but the parish is usually limited to a few months each year on a short list due to funding.

What does this mean? The citizenry must require more due diligence of politicians as Livingston Parish moves forward. Only recently did the Parish Council vote, 8-0, to increase drainage standards to 25-year storms instead of a 10 … which means they’re more stringent. Why did it take them so long?

8-0 is promising, hopefully the Council can get on the same page with zoning requirements after a 5-4 vote for multiple entrances, among other issues, split the representatives. Why? Because there are lots of people in the central and eastern side of the parish who feel as if new regulations will limit their future growth, while the Denham, Walker, and Watson areas got to experience free-market development.

They’re not off, but on the other hand it would lead down the same path with the same problems the western areas are experiencing – poor drainage in a large area, combined with over-development, and no zoning.

It’s a bad mix.

In the future, some areas will have to suck it up and pay a drainage tax on their homes – much like Denham, Watson, and Walker currently do. But if someone comes to the voting people in this parish? Ask more of them, make them produce financials – because while the property tax may not go the distance, sales tax is collected on dollars spent and businesses continue to follow the homes here. The growth rate of those funds is closer to exponential.

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