The City Gets Serious About Infrastructure

by Kenneth Cooper

This city has got bad roots – wait, not the largest slave trading market in the South roots, those racial roots that randomly manifest as a car burglary or robbery near you, but infrastructure roots, the 1500 miles or so of pipes and underground canals that drain water from the foundation the city sits on. Those roots, they are a hot mess.

Presently, New Orleans, the jewel of the state, the Eden almost awash by a sea of rural-ness, sits atop miles and miles of old, rotting, hundred-year-old pipes whose deficiencies randomly manifest as a boil water advisory or flooded neighborhood near you. Through years and mayors those pipes have been neglected while the SW&B nearly ran itself into bankruptcy, and the city directed most of its resources to salaries and trying to stop black people from killing each other.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell, though, has seemingly made fixing the plumbing her number one priority. It started with her fair share push during the legislative session. The mayor managed to get about $50 million up front from the state and Convention Center for infrastructure, and up to $12 million annually through a hotel tax. Three weeks ago, voters approved a tax on short term rentals that could bring in another $12 million a year, and citizens approved a proposal allowing the state to issue $500 million in bonds. These were two of three proposals on the mayor’s Ballot of Yes- the third asked citizens to donate some of their own money via a property milage increase. Most citizens who voted responded to that ballot option with a “no.”

Now that some money is coming in, the question is how the city will go about spending it. About $36 million of that $50 million will go towards paying off bills the SW&B still owes. The rest will go towards a long list the SW&B has complied as part of its proposed $325 million capital budget for 2020. Millions are proposed to be spent on upgrading some of the pipes in each drainage system, along with computer upgrades, pump upgrades, vehicle upgrades, generator upgrades, just upgrades all around. Just how much is included under the term “upgrade” will go a long way in determining how serious the city is to getting at the root of its flooding problems. The SW&B is scheduled to vote on its budget on the 18th of this month.

 All is not rosy though. Even with the cash influx, the SW&B is still claiming to be in bad financial shape for future budgets and its long term goal of $3 billion in improvements over ten years. A rate increase the City Council approved back in 2012 is set to expire next month. That along with supposed cost of business increases will result in the SW&B once again not brining in enough money to fund its budgets. Expect another round of rate increases and or tax proposals. In the meantime, at least for the upcoming year, the city can say its actually trying to get at the root of its flooding problems.

Previous mayors have been judged on their records when it comes to crime, specifically the murder rate. Mayor Cantrell is in rare air though. Unlike her predecessors, her reign will most likely be judged by on how she handles the rate at which the city floods. Hopefully, unlike the president, she’s much more adept at draining a swamp.

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