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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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Levee District manager says fuel agreement is “golden egg” for parish

Levee District manager says fuel agreement is “golden egg” for parish

In the 1970s, the Lafourche Parish Police Jury made an agreement with the South Lafourche Levee District (SLLD) — the district would build, maintain and operate the pumps in the 10th Ward and the parish would pay for the fuel cost.

Today, Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle wants to strengthen the agreement under a new written stipulation — the parish will continue to pay for fuel but can opt out after a 60-day notice.

SLLD feels that would be an unfair deal.

The history of the agreement and the parish’s new stance were the subject of much discussion at Monday’s SLLD public meeting in Galliano.

SLLD General Manager Windell Curole says that the original agreement came about because of the parish’s unwillingness to take over the pumps after the levee district built them.

“We asked the parish to build better pump stations and build them over the levee and the parish said they didn’t have the money or the time to do that. We went and found some money and spent about 10 million dollars building new pump stations and increasing the pump capacity tremendously. It actually moved the drainage water much more efficiently,” said Curole in addressing the Council at an October 26, 2017 public meeting.

Curole said the gist of the agreement is that the parish pays the fuel costs in return for the levee district maintaining the pumps.

But Curole said he was notified by parish administration in September of last year that the parish would no longer pay for fuel.

Public Works Director James Barnes admitted at the October meeting that he did call Curole to notify him that SLLD’s latest fuel bill would not be paid.

But Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle back peddled at the same October meeting, admitting that he had temporarily reversed that decision and would pay the latest bill. But he also said a written agreement would be necessary going forward.

“I felt we need a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in place. We need to get one put in place,” said Cantrelle of his decision.

But Curole said it should be clear and without any stipulation that the parish continues to pay for fuel because the taxes collected were dedicated to paying for drainage.

“At the least, the fuel should be paid for by the taxes that are collected for that purpose,” said Curole, referring to the nearly 5 mills of property tax collected for drainage.

Councilman Daniel Lorraine echoed Curole’s concern.

“We’ve had a verbal agreement since 1979. The parish pays all fuel and repairs for the North Lafourche Levee District. Why not for the South? We should pay for maintenance, too. I suggest a CEA (cooperative endeavor agreement) with SLLD,” he said at Monday’s SLLD meeting.

“I told Jimmy, how would you like it if they suddenly handed you a $2 million bill for pump station repair,” said Lorraine.

Curole said SLLD’s philosophy has always been to spend money on hurricane protection.

“We want to spend all of our money to keep hurricane storm surge from destroying this community. The more we spend on pumping, the less we spend on levees,” he said.

Cantrelle’s MOU includes an amendment that SLLD agree that the parish can opt out of the deal to pay fuel pending a 60-day notice to the levee district.

SLLD is not in agreement.

SLLD attorney Ray Collins said the levee district gets very little of the tax for drainage and that the fuel cost is “not even close” to the amount of taxes collected.

“That’s been the rub the entire time. Windell’s gone and expressed that at a previous meeting but they keep coming back with it and we keep telling them we’re not gonna agree to it,” said Collins.

In 2016, the parish collected about $2.99 million for drainage. In 2017 that figure was $2.5 million. The parish has budgeted $1.13 million in 2018.

By comparison, the parish paid SLLD for 298,250 gallons of fuel in 2016, and Curole says they also reimbursed SLLD between $300,000-400,000 for fuel in 2017.

In a letter to the Council last year, Curole listed other costs which SLLD incurs but the parish pays elsewhere. A total of $4,213,018 in pump and pump station repairs was paid for by SLLD from 2005 to 2017.

SLLD also employs three men “who are fully responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the pumps and pump station equipment. Their combined total salaries for 2016 was $286,598,” says Curole’s letter.

“Look at it this way. It’s like magic. They (parish) just send the fuel and all of a sudden there’s drainage. You go to other parts of the parish, they’ve got to send the fuel, they’ve got to send the guys to build the pump stations, and they’ve got to send the guys to start the pumps and to maintain the pumps. Here, the goose lays the golden egg and you want to fry it and charge for giving you the golden egg,” said Curole.