Court upholds ruling on taxes for Comite diversion

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The Louisiana Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling that property taxes funding the Comite River Diversion Canal project be sent to the district that oversees the project instead of being held in escrow. The high court made its decision even as a lawsuit challenging the tax collection is still playing out in court.

The Advocate reports (http://bit.ly/1ffrw1s) Central property owner Terry Campbell filed a lawsuit in state court in November 2010 claiming the Amite River Basin Drainage and Water Conservation District, improperly continued to collect money from a 3-mill property tax passed in July 2000 to fund the project.

Campbell’s lawsuit alleges the tax resolution authorized the district to collect no more than $6 million from the tax but that the district kept collecting money after reaching that goal. Chris Whittington, one of the attorneys representing the class-action plaintiffs, has said the figure had climbed to about $13 million as of early 2013.

Sid Gautreaux and Jason Ard, the sheriffs in East Baton Rouge and Livingston parishes respectively, said in court records they were still collecting the taxes because no ruling had been made on the legality of the collection. Campbell and other residents continued to pay the tax out of an abundance of caution as the case played out, court records show.

The state's high court last Thursday refused to hear the appeal, effectively upholding an appellate court ruling ordering the funds be sent to the district, which covers parts of East Baton Rouge, Livingston and Ascension parishes.

The Comite River Diversion Canal project will lower flooding risks in the Comite River Basin by diverting floodwater from the Amite and Comite rivers to the Mississippi River. The Comite River Basin covers portions of East Baton Rouge, Livingston, Ascension and East Feliciana parishes as well as Wilkinson and Amite counties in Mississippi.

The project had been discussed for decades after a disastrous flood in 1983 but gained some traction in 2000 after the tax proposal passed. However, construction on the $188 million project has been delayed for years because of legal and financial issues.

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Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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