Voters to consider sewer tax

By By John Guidroz / American Press

One item on the April 5 ballot will ask voters living in Calcasieu Parish’s unincorporated areas if they want to fund about

half of a $110 million sewer expansion plan with a 20-year, quarter-cent sales tax.

Parish Administrator Bryan Beam said the expansion would be parishwide, with existing municipal sewer services extended in

south Lake Charles, Carlyss and Moss Bluff, and areas surrounding Westlake, Sulphur, DeQuincy, Vinton and Iowa.

“You really have no true municipal-type sewer system in unincorporated areas,” he said.

Allen Wainwright, parish public works

director, said sewer trunklines will be extended along “major corridors”

that are projected

to see economic expansion like commercial development. Beam said

officials from each municipality have also given input on

the expansion projects.

“This phase is geared to establish a backbone system throughout the parish which will allow it to be run to other areas, such

as residential,” Beam said. “Sewering the whole parish is way too expensive to put in one proposition.”

How it’s funded

If approved, the sales tax would

generate about $4.3 million per year and would become effective Jan. 1.

The rest of the expansion

would be funded with $56 million in parish gambling funds and

$11.8 million in state capital outlay money.

Beam said the plan would be “tax

neutral” for all areas, except for Ward 1, which includes Moss Bluff and

Gillis. This is

because the Police Jury agreed to reduce the levy of its existing

road and garbage sales tax by a quarter-cent for the remainder

of the term of that tax. Ward 1 residents do not pay that tax.

The current sales tax rate for residents in unincorporated areas is 9.25 percent.

Growing needs

Beam said the reason for the tax proposal is twofold — “economic development and quality of life.”

The population in unincorporated areas has increased over the last several decades, causing a strain on infrastructure like

roads, drainage and sewer.

“We have over 30,000 individual sewer

treatment systems right outside of residences,” he said. “Many of these

systems aren’t

working properly, which means a large amount of untreated or

undertreated sewage is flowing into ditches. That flows to our

lakes and rivers.”

Beam said the population in unincorporated areas grew from 39,000 residents in 1970 to more than 86,000 residents in 2010.

That growth has transformed once rural areas into “suburban or, in some cases, urban” areas, he said.

The lack of a regional sewer service

has deterred economic growth for many years, Beam said. He quoted a 1992

Chamber Foundation

study, along with a recent report by the Southwest Louisiana

Economic Development Alliance that cited a lack of sewer along

commercial routes outside cities as the reason why some commercial

prospects have not considered building in Calcasieu.

“This is not a new problem,” Beam said. “It’s only gotten much worse in the last 20 years.”

He said the anticipated growth with major industrial projects will make the issue worse “if we don’t get a better handle on

it.”

Commission

The nine members of the sewer commission could review any proposed revisions to the expansion projects and set priorities

on future work. The commission is made up of five police jurors, one representative from Lake Charles and Sulphur, and two

rotating among DeQuincy, Iowa, Vinton and Westlake.

Each member will serve a three-year term. Any recommendations would be considered by the full Police Jury.

Early voting is March 22-29. Voters can cast early ballots at the Calcasieu Parish Courthouse, 1000 Ryan St.; the Moss Bluff

Library, 261 Parish Road; and the West Calcasieu Business Center in Sulphur, 500 A N. Huntington St.