Morganza task force begins strategizing

Lafourche voters OK tax spending for schools
April 25, 2012
St. Mary poverty outranks state
April 25, 2012
Lafourche voters OK tax spending for schools
April 25, 2012
St. Mary poverty outranks state
April 25, 2012

Terrebonne Parish voters will be asked to decide on a tax increase to help fund the $120 million completion of an inner defense wall on the Morganza-to-the-Gulf hurricane protection system.

The question being considered by a Morganza Funding Advisory Task Force is if a public appeal could be targeted with sales taxes, ad valorem property taxes or any combination of the two revenue streams.

During the second of four scheduled task force meetings on Thursday, grant and bond attorney Jerry Osborne described various funding options available for Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District special representatives to consider.

Osborne presented a bond-buyer index to task force members and explained that his comparative analysis reveals a daily variation in interest rates that are currently at an overall low level. Depending on the package, market closing rates on Friday ranged between 2 percent and 4.6 percent.

“You are months away from doing any financing,” Osborne told the task force. “Interest rates right now are at an all time low … the last time there were this low was in 1946.”

Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District Executive Director Reggie Dupre explained that the Terrebonne Levee District along with North and South Lafourche levee districts are the only three flood protection agencies in the state that have up to 1 percent taxing authority, subject to voter approval, which is not counted on parish taxing limits.

“[The] Terrebonne Levee District also has general obligation bonding authority equal to the parish government and school board,” Dupre said.

Osborne presented a variety of taxing options then noted that revenue bonds are a limited tax while general obligation bonds are unlimited. He suggested this might be an element to take into consideration when approaching voters.

Task force discussion offered the example that for a homeowner with a $100,000 house, any property tax based on what the levee district needs, would result in $40 being added to an existing annual tax bill for that piece of property.

“There is only one thing that could ruin the tax base of this parish,” Dupre said. “Both the ad valorem tax base and sales tax, and that is a major hurricane. What we are discussing is the very thing that would protect us from that kind of disaster.”

Dupre said that a sales tax bond requires up front collateral while an ad valorem tax is based on the parish’s entire tax base being its collateral.

Exact tax dollar amounts have not been determined as task force members continue to consider their combination of options.

One option that could be considered by the task force would be to to ask voters to approve a general obligation property tax combined with a smaller sales tax to attain the desired funds.

“Right now, this is information,” task force chairman Jack Moore said. “Determination of what will be needed and how we will do it is yet to be determined. Right now it is [looking at] what produces what?”

In order for the taxing measure to be prepared and placed on the open election ballot of Dec. 1, a completed taxation proposal would need to be decided by the task force and levee district no later than Aug. 14.

The next Morganza Funding Advisory Task Force meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. on May 10. Meetings are open to the public and held at the Government Tower parish council chamber in Houma.

T.Baker Smith project manager Mitch Marmande, left, Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District Executive Director Reggie Dupre and Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Director Jerome Zeringue tell members of the Morganza Financing Task Force about the status of levee construction for the region.