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To cover annual EBR drainage costs, new utility fee possible

1 week 5 days 3 hours ago Wednesday, October 13 2021 Oct 13, 2021 October 13, 2021 10:42 PM October 13, 2021 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - In the ongoing fight against flooding, East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's administration is proposing a stormwater utility fee to provide dedicated funds for drainage maintenance and improvements.

EBR Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kelvin Hill unveiled the fee proposal to the Metro Council Wednesday during a drainage presentation.

Currently, the City-parish has a backlog of maintenance needs, totaling hundreds of projects.

"36% of our backlog tends to be in roadside drainage type issues," Hill said.

Those roadside drainage issues, cave-ins, and requests for debris removal tend to require most of the available drainage maintenance manpower, Hill said.

98 positions are allotted for drainage maintenance, but Hill says the division usually operates with a 30% vacancy rate. 

Each year, millions of dollars are necessary to maintain the aging drainage system. Recently, the city-parish has spent about the same amount annually.

"On average, we spend about $8.5 million a year on drainage," Hill said.

Hill says the administration plans to allocate $9 million for drainage maintenance in 2022, but in-house estimates suggest it will take a lot more to clear the backlog and get ahead.

"I think the true cost of drainage maintenance is in the neighborhood of $40 million," Hill said. "It could be $42 [million], could be $38 [million], but I think it's in that neighborhood."

The vast majority of that $40 million sum would go towards contracting third parties to help with repairs and maintenance, but that total also includes more money for equipment and new hires.

To cover those costs, officials are proposing a stormwater utility.

However, before any utility fee would be levied on taxpayers, the mayor's office has asked council members to authorize a utility feasibility study. The independent analysis, which will be voted on later this month, would take between eight months and a year, coming with a price tag of $196,000.

Establishing a stormwater utility, Hill says, will provide a dedicated stream of funds for drainage maintenance.

"That is something that we see across the country," Hill said. "It is not a new idea, but it's an effective idea."

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