Lafourche voters presented with property-tax renewal

Lafourche voters will help determine the outcome of a property-tax renewal for an entity that keeps freshwater flowing into Bayou Lafourche, the source of drinking water for 300,000 people in the region.

The Bayou Lafourche Fresh Water District is requesting a 20-year renewal at 2.11 mills, the same rate that was set when the state created the district more than 60 years ago.

District Chairman Hugh Caffery said the measure is “urgent” on a ballot that could see a relatively light turnout.

“It’s our main revenue,” said Caffery, who has been a commissioner since 2008. “I just would urge your readers to please consider this and how important it is to basic drinking water and that they would take the time to go out and make their decision known at the ballot box.”

Voters in Ascension and Assumption parishes will join all Lafourche voters in deciding the measure. The renewal would take effect in 2014 and last through 2033.

It is estimated to raise $2.1 million each year, though Caffery said the collection is closer to $1.7 million.

The district’s primary mandate is to keep Mississippi River water flowing into the bayou over the dam in Donaldsonville. It operates four 48-inch pumps, and each has the capacity to pump 50,000 gallons of freshwater per minute, Caffery said.

The Fresh Water District is responsible for delivering the water to six municipal and parish treatment plants, which in turn present the water to residents.

The district charges the plants a usage fee to complement its tax revenue; it generates about 15 percent of the district’s income, Caffery said.

Bayou Lafourche was once a tributary of the Mississippi River. The Donaldsonville dam was constructed in 1904. Fifty years later, when the Fresh Water District was created, the bayou was stagnant and unsanitary.

Reducing saltwater intrusion and the removal of vegetation that obstructs the former tributary’s flow are other pressing concerns facing commissioners today.

Caffery said district commissioners were tempted to seek a rate increase to help battle some of the problems, but opted against it because of the current economic climate and recent state and federal grants to fund dredging projects.

“We’re looking to find the money we need to solve these problems from state grants, or looking at other sources if we have to,” Caffery said. “If we’re going to do something new, something in addition to what we’ve done in the past, we’ve got to find extra funding.”