Sept. 25, 2013 06:50

The powers that be in Iberia Parish - a group of elected officials refusing to listen to the voices of its constituents combined with higher-ups at the local paper - are pulling out all the stops as they continue their foolhardy push to use already dedicated tax revenues for a questionable levee project.

The powers that be in Iberia Parish - a group of elected officials refusing to listen to the voices of its constituents combined with higher-ups at the local paper - are pulling out all the stops as they continue their foolhardy push to use already dedicated tax revenues for a questionable levee project after voters denied its funding in an election held not even six months ago.

Since our last report on the issue (read it here), the attempt to high-jack funds for the levee project has been expanded;  in addition to tapping into the property and sales taxes dedicated to the Iberia Parish Library System, the plan now calls for redirecting additional revenues from voter-approved millages for the parish's buildings and maintenance, health unit and drainage funds.

The Iberia Parish Council will vote during its meeting Wednesday night on a resolution to put the redirection of those taxes to a vote in November. If passed, November's ballot would include four separate funding redirections, including 0.75 mills from the library system, 0.5 mills from buildings and maintenance, 0.25 mills from the health unit and 0.25 mills from drainage.

"Dedicated Taxes are taxes that are voted upon and approved by the voters of their respective parish or county to be used for a specific purpose for which the proposition voted on is stated," says Kitty Courts, a library board member and the woman spearheading the resistance to the council's tax grab.

"Libraries and levees are two entirely different entities that serve two very different purposes for the benefit and the welfare of the general public. Truthfully and honestly, this issue is about dedicated taxes. The library tax is a dedicated tax, which is to be used for the maintenance and use of the Iberia Parish system. The same would be true for any other dedicated tax, such as a dedicated tax for a hospital, school, roadway, bridge or any other public entity."

The proposal, spearheaded by parish councilmen David Ditch and Ricky Gonsoulin, originally targeted only the library, but that quickly sparked a public outcry from the Friends of the Library and a growing number of parish residents, and led to questions over the legality of taking revenue from dedicated funds. The motive of these elected officials is also being called into question, as the push to fund the levee is arguably just a sly side-stepping of the failed levee tax vote in April.

David Ditch

A majority of the parish council appears to support the levee initiative, and Ditch's resolution is likely to pass during tonight's meeting, yet our sources say the truth is being distorted by the plan's proponents - a group that includes the likes of The Daily Iberian's publisher and editorial staff, former U.S. Congressman Jeff Landry and board members from the Iberia Parish Hurricane, Levee and Conservation District (the entity that stands to benefit from the redirected funds).

The idea that a 26-mile, $420 million levee will protect the parish from flooding, says Jim Foret - a local naturalist and UL professor - is very flawed. Foret expounded on the flawed logic of the levee-backers in his monthly newsletter e-blast, "Full Moon Alert," raising several valid points that seem to have escaped Ditch and his supporters.

Foret writes:

I worry that Iberia Parish [Government] is working off of some bad advice as they prepare to match federal funds to build a storm-protection levee at the interface of the cropland with the northern edge of the marsh, from Vermilion Parish to our west and St. Mary on the east.

No one seems to care that these wetland levees seldom work for long, need constant maintenance and destroy the fresh marsh to the south by cutting off freshwater recharge from the north and allowing beautiful, productive fresh marshes to be poisoned by saltwater intrusion. After said poisoning, these marshes wash away. Voila! Beach front property in Delcambre and Lydia and Avery is a true island.

These levees also trap stormwater from above behind them, water from rainfall or from seawater overtopping the levee. Sounds really boggy anyway, especially with nowhere to drain. Why not protect what we have, trap sediment in as many ways as we can, rebuilding marsh at every opportunity, allowing the natural system do its thangie.

Let the system work as it was intended. It is a dynamic system and a fixed wall is not the answer. We need healthy dynamic wetlands to support the seafood we all love and enjoy and protect the dry land we all need. Everyone should build high down there or not at all. It is OK to play and work around the wetlands but our houses must only be allowed within certain limits.

Probably the saddest part of all this is that the parish wishes to accomplish this 26 mile, $420 million mistake by stealing dedicated tax.

Foret raised several additional points during a Wednesday morning lecture before a class of UL geoscience students. According to Foret, an environmental impact study of the project has yet to be conducted, scheduled or even proposed by the levee board; there has been no determination of the ongoing maintenance costs the project will incur once complete; and there has been no discussion of the U.S. Wetlands Conservation guidelines, which require a 2-to-one mitigation for wetland loss, meaning two units of wetlands must be replaced for every unit lost.

Even more troubling, says a source with ties to the parish library system, is that despite the claims of the project's backers, there are no available matching funds for the project.

Our source, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of backlash, writes in a recent email:

We have discovered there are no matching funds available, and that's according to BP, the state and Charles Boustany. In other words, this is just a ploy to hurry and siphon money off dedicated funds before this hoax is discovered. I doubt the Daily Iberian (soooo in the council's pocket) will ever run a story on this. It's time this hoax about imaginary matching funds is exposed.

Though it may be for naught considering the council's leanings, a letter by Library Director Kathy Miles was distributed to area media outlets on Tuesday in an attempt to rally parish residents to show up for tonight's meeting to make a stand against the levee tax grab.

Here's Miles' letter, in its entirety:

Dear Friends,

If you would like to see the levee district pursue their own funding for their project instead of attaching themselves to the library's current millage, please contact Parish President Romero by either email at or by telephone at 365-8246, or after hours at 492-5405 and request that he veto the current resolution that would put the proposition on the ballot.

Please understand that we are neither for nor against the building of levees, we simply think that the levee district should seek their own funding based on their own merits.

Some may think that the library is collecting too much money, please understand that the newspaper article on Sunday was misleading, since it has been made clear to me that the levee would collect library taxes that have hereto not been collected.

In short, your taxes would go up. The levee board, of course, doesn't want to make that point clear since that would most definitely mean a negative vote. Please be assured that I sat in those meetings, read the proposition that will be on the ballot, and conferred with an attorney - your taxes WOULD increase. All this can be avoided with a call or email from each voter in your household. You must do so before 5:00 p.m. tomorrow!

As always, thank you for your support of the library, and no matter whether you are for this or against, you will always be welcome here.

Kathy Miles


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