As city-parish leaders try to find a source for the $2 million a year needed to match $255 million in federal funds earmarked for five badly needed local drainage projects, some are eyeing state money intended to provide the match for another long-awaited flood-control measure: the Comite Diversion Canal Project.
Like the $255 million East Baton Rouge Parish Flood Control Project, the $400 million Comite project originally required a 25% local match. Early this year, however, U.S. Rep. Garret Graves was able to persuade the federal government to pick up 100% of the tab for the Comite project, enabling it to move forward.
Still, inexplicably, some $3 million was appropriated for the Comite work in the state’s construction budget during the recent legislative session. Given that state funds are no longer needed for that purpose, why not move the money to the EBR Flood Control Project, which is stalled and at risk of losing out on a huge federal windfall?
City-parish leaders, saying the 30-year, $2 million-a-year local match is more than their cash-strapped budget can afford, have asked that question of the state. Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne says it’s not that simple.
“Money cannot be transferred around in capital outlay,” he says. “And the Comite Diversion money was not available in one lump sum. It’s not just a pot of money sitting there waiting to be spent.”
Funds were allocated for Comite for just one year and if they’re not needed or bonded they will be reallocated for another purpose in the future after lawmakers go through the budgeting process, he says.
Matching funds for the EBR Flood Control Project—which total some $65 million but can be paid over 30 years—could have been requested for inclusion in the capital outlay budget, but no one from the city-parish or the Capital Region Legislative Delegation asked, Dardenne says.
“It would not have been an inappropriate request to be considered,” Dardenne says. “But no request was made this year so it’s not in capital outlay … and the state doesn’t have $2 million a year just sitting around.”
Though the governor, in theory, could call a meeting of the Interim Emergency Board to reallocate the money, Dardenne says that’s not the way the system works.
“The Interim Emergency Board only meets for real emergencies and has just a pittance of money that can only be used on an emergency,” he says. “It’s not intended to redirect funding in a budget that’s already been approved once the legislature has gone home.”
Dardenne spoke to Fred Raiford, city-parish director of transportation and drainage, last week about the dilemma and says he is happy to continue talking to city-parish officials as they search for a solution.
But coming up with the money is ultimately a local responsibility, he says, adding, “This has to be put to the local legislative delegation.”