After more than an hour of discussion, Calcasieu Parish police jurors voted 9-4 to consolidate the seven existing drainage districts down to two.
The plan, which takes effect June 24, is a two-phase approach that calls for managing drainage based on watersheds, instead of political lines. Each board will call a tax in 2020 for a replacement millage, according to territorial boundaries, that will be lower than all existing millages.
District 7 Police Juror Chris Landry called the current drainage district structure "antiquated" and "broken." Others, including District 10 Police Juror Shalon Latour, of Iowa, said they weren't entirely sold on the idea. Latour failed to defer action on the item for six months to give current drainage districts enough time to fix any lingering issues.
Under the plan, employees currently managed by the drainage boards will keep their jobs, and each district will maintain a yard and maintenance crew.
District funding streams and dedications will remain in place during the first phase. The Police Jury will use existing money to pay part of the initial funding difference for up to three years.
Also, the boards will be increased from five members to seven, pending approval from the state Legislature and the Police Jury.
District 15 Police Juror Les Farnum said there are merits to consolidation. However, none of the constituents he spoke with support it.
Several police jurors voiced concerns about voters rejecting the tax in 2020. District 12 Police Juror Judd Bares said his area is largely split between residents who care about the tax and those who don't.
"How does something pass in an environment like that," Bares asked. "That's an uphill battle to me."
The Police Jury rejected a motion by Farnum to have the drainage boards revert back to the seven-district system if voters oppose the tax.
District 13 Police Juror Francis Andrepont said he received numerous phone calls from residents in Ward 4 who oppose consolidation.
"I believe the people do know what they want," he said. "I will represent the people who put me here."
Feedback on consolidating the districts was split. Ricky Blackwell said he doesn't think voters will approve the tax, and current outlying districts won't have a majority on either drainage board.
"People want smaller government, not bigger government," he said. "I surely hope you're going to listen to what the voters are telling you when they turn down your tax."
Mike Wittler said he was worried about how the two districts would be represented.
"If this thing is going to work, there can't be any weak links in the chain," Whitler said. "I think some of the districts are doing a really good job, and I believe they will continue to do so. Perhaps they will shine through as an example of the way things could and should be done."
Ralph Lewing, who represents the Alliance for Positive Growth, said consolidation will allow residents to see where their money is being spent and how they are being represented.
Art Little, who sits on the parish Planning and Zoning Board, said having only two drainage districts will further divide the parish.
"The division we had back then has taken the last two decades for this administration to bring us back together," he said.
Eric Cormier, vice president of policy and strategic development for the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, said parish staff put a plan together "that makes a difference." He said it will be helpful for businesses that want to know about infrastructure and flooding.
"The world is looking at Southwest Louisiana on a day-to-day basis," Cormier said. "We know this is a good policy."
Blackwell said the idea of consolidating drainage districts was not discussed in previous meetings, dating back to 2015. District 9 Police Juror Kevin Guidry later responded, saying the parish has "been as transparent as possible."
Michael Hankins, Alliance for Positive Growth president, said having fewer drainage districts will be more cost efficient for residents.
Voting for the consolidation were Dennis Scott, Hal McMillin, Shelly Mayo, Landry, Tony Guillory, Guidry, Calvin Collins, Guy Brame and Brian Abshire.
Latour, Farnum, Bares and Andrepont opposed it.
District 11 Police Juror Sandra Treme was not present.
Angie Quienalty, the parish's current voter registrar, is retiring, effective Saturday. She was appointed to the position in 1995. Parish Administrator Bryan Beam said Quienalty has been "struggling with a pretty serious illness."
Kim Fontenot, deputy voter registrar, will become interim registrar on Sunday.
The Police Jury has 30 days from March 23 to fill the voter registrar position. Advertisements for applications will be run in the American Press and on cppj.net, and applications will be received through April 5.
The Police Jury approved creating an ad hock interview committee to review the applicants and narrow the list down to three to five finalists. The full Police Jury will decide who is appointed to the job.