Wax Lake drainage passage tax urged
By PRESTON GILL
PATTERSON — The City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday in support of the renewal of a 3.2 mill tax funding the Wax Lake East Drainage District in the Oct 19 election.
Voters from Calumet to Berwick will be asked if they want to continue to pay the 20-year-old tax for another 10 years.
The millage is expected to generate $150,000 annually and will be used to pay for upkeep, maintenance and improvements to the flood control systems under the jurisdiction of the district.
The millage is subject to Louisiana’s $75,000 homestead exemption. Parish tax assessor Jarrod K. Longman said in an email that a homeowner within the district with a home assessed at $150,000 and claiming the exemption would pay an annual tax of $24; a home assessed at $300,000 would pay $72.
The millage is expected to raise about $365,000 a year for maintenance, operation and improvements.
Longman said, within the district, there are two other millages at 2 mills each, one for construction and maintenance and one for bonds. All of the millages for the district total 7.2 mills.
Wax Lake East Drainage began collecting the millages in 1995 after an election the year before, Longman said. In the original election, voters approved 2.2 mills for maintenance, operation and improvements and an additional 1 mill for maintenance, operation, and improvements for a total of 3.2 mills. The millages were renewed in 2005 for 10 years at 3.2 mills.
Peter “Dutch” Vandenaardweg, drainage district supervisor, said the district has three pumping stations on the southern levees along the Intracoastal Canal which utilize eight pumps, each as big as a medium-sized room, some of which run all the time. At full capacity the system can pump 16,000 gallons of water per second, Vandenaardweg said.
The district employs five people and had a $652,000 budget last year. Fuel costs vary wildly but eat a significant amount of the budget and salaries run about $150,000 annually, he said.
The drainage board looks to do as much of the maintenance and new projects as possible from within house without using outside contractors in order to keep operating expenses as low as possible, he said.
Construction of the Wax Lake Outlet Diversion began in 1944, according to a National Science Foundation study.
The Calumet outlet forms the western boundary of the Wax Lake East Drainage district as well as the western edge of what Vandenaardweg describes as an island surrounded by water and boxed in like a bowl by the levees.
The eastern end of the levee district is the Atchafalaya River at Berwick. The northern rim of the district is also the Atchafalaya River and some lakes, including Six Mile Lake with the Bayou Teche and the Lower Atchafalaya, inside the boundary. The southern ridge of the district is the levee system south of the railroad tracks where a borrow pit runs the length of the levee.
While the man-made levee system protects from river and storm surges, it also serves as a basin that must be emptied of every drop of rainfall over the area into the southern borrow pits and then eventually pumped over the southern levees into the Atchafalaya River. This is accomplished, depending on the topography, with either gravity or pumps, or a combination of both moving water in a north to south direction.
The Patterson, Bayou Vista and Berwick communities have their own system of removing the flood waters, although the Wax Lake Drainage East district assists in keeping those systems operating efficiently. The levee board is solely responsible for protecting areas outside of those communities.