EFC to recommend four-month water bill feeAug 17th, 2012 | By Jessica Gonzalez | Category: News
The Executive Finance Committee presented a plan to the administration and the public at their August 14 meeting that, if approved by the council next week, would put a $32 fee on
residents’ water bills starting September 1. The fee would keep the fire department safe from layoffs for the remainder of 2012.
The EFC, which consists of Councilmen Richie Lewis, Casey Hunnicutt, and Guy
McInnis, also presented the administration with a list of non-personnel line-item budget cuts that they anticipate will save an additional $1.2 million for the 2012 budget.
The $32 fee is to sustain the Fire Department— a $5.5 million cost to the parish annually— until the end of the year without having to make layoffs in that department.
The fee will be per address, not per water meter.
“A four-plex apartment would get four fees, and a two-plex would get two fees,” explained Executive Finance Committee Chairman Richie Lewis.
Lewis said that without the $32 water bill fee, residents would see rates go up on other home-related bills—a smaller fire department leads to higher insurance rates, he says.
“If we lose our firemen, we lose our insurance rating; everyone’s insurance across the parish is going to go up if we lose firemen,” Lewis said frankly.
“This is strictly for fire, not a fee for government services.”
The audience, made of firefighters and concerned homeowners,
met Lewis’ remarks with applause.
The EFC also said that on December 8, residents will have the opportunity to hit the polls and vote whether or not they want to keep the $32 monthly fee or instead replace that with
a 20-mil property tax.
“20-mils on an average house that’s $100,000 is going to come out to around $4.70 per month,” Lewis explained. “Provided that that tax passes by a vote of the people of the parish.”
The parish charter, Section 2 – 17 (b), dictates that any increase in taxes or fees must first
be voted on by the people, unless done by way of an emergency
ordinance (see Section 2-14 (a) of the charter).
In terms of the four-month water bill fee, Chief Administrative Officer Jerry Graves Jr. says that years ago the parish sought an attorney general opinion on a similar matter, and based on
that opinion he believes that the recent fee increase proposal is not a violation of the parish
According to the Attorney General opinion, “a resolution for the tax must be approved by two-thirds of the total council before the proposal can be placed on a ballot for voter approval.
On the other hand, if either of the two ordinances in question imposes a fee, the fee can be implemented without voter approval and pursuant to Attorney General Opinion No. 06-0164-A, by merely adopting an ordinance.”
“This meeting was called today to let the public know what the fee was going to be, what it was going to be dedicated to, and that we are going to put it to the vote of the people in December— we just need to get to December,” Lewis explained. “If we don’t do anything, we won’t make it to December.”
The parish currently has a $2.3 million deficit for its 2012 budget, and will face a $10.3 million shortfall for 2013.
Residents who attended the meeting seemed to be in support of the EFC’s latest decision.
“I just want to tell you how important these men and women from the fire department are— I saw it first hand when my husband died; they stayed with me the whole time, and I’ll fight for them ‘till the end,” explained St. Bernard resident Catherine Serpas. “We did it for the hospital (passed a millage) and we can do it again, we just need to educate the public.”
The council will hold a public hearing on the fee increase before they vote on the matter at their August 21 council meeting.