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LA local hyper-governance causing problems

An incident regarding a Livingston Parish board reminds Louisiana of the hazards of hyper-governance.

Last week, the Livingston Parish Council removed a member of the parish’s Gravity Drainage District No. 5. He had spoken vituperatively to the body’s clerk after she reminded it of state law regarding open meetings and cast unwarranted aspersions over the accreditation of the board’s attorney.

As its members serve at the pleasure of the Council, now parish commissioners will have to find someone else for that position. But wouldn’t it make more sense not to have to go through all of this in the first place?

Ouachita Parish serves as a typical example. At the parish level, it has the constitutionally required Police Jury, sheriff, assessor, and coroner. It also has the constitutionally-defined Ouachita Parish and Monroe City School Districts. However, it also has several other sub-governments with their own revenue-raising authority and appointed governance structures.

Among them are districts for hospitals (or the assets left over from a sale), recreation areas, waterworks, sewerage, and, as in the case of Livingston, gravity drainage. Each has commissions with members appointed by the Police Jury with control over their own budgets; members in charge of G.B. Cooley Hospital Service District, which runs a mental health facility, also receive travel allowances.

While some turn over millions of dollars a year, others don’t even break six figures annually and serve fewer than a thousand customers or residents. Parish government dwarfs all of them in terms of revenues and expenditures.

It also to some degree already performs many of these functions. While a separate district operates three recreation areas, the parish runs facilities at Cheniere Lake. It also provides drainage maintenance in large parts of the parish outside of municipalities.

What remains perhaps government shouldn’t run. As problems crop up across the state with the aged infrastructure of water and sewerage systems covering small numbers of customers, a chorus has grown, in order to prevent either huge rate hikes or palming off costs on state taxpayers for these systems, for these to merge within parishes under nongovernment ownership. Local governments statewide over the years have reduced their connections to hospitals, either by leasing these or through outright sales.

Simply, the present arrangement allows for an unnecessary layer of governance or needless service fragmentation. By rolling these into parish government, taxpayers would save without superfluous bureaucracy, if not from more efficient operation by the private sector.

It’s not without precedence for Ouachita to consolidate services. It operates fire protection in most of the parish, a departure from many others in the state, even large ones like Caddo and east Baton Rouge, that have discrete fire protection districts in non-urban areas.

Citizens also would benefit by having clearer lines of accountability. Those not served by municipalities wouldn’t have to pay bills for several different governments, with different sets of policy-makers – many unelected – deciding levels of taxation or rates. Police jurors also would have direct control over costs, including regarding personnel currently not theirs but another government’s over which they have only indirect control, and over service provision, which would make for better oversight.

Heading in this direction would not take great effort. One parish ordinance could wipe out all these entities, although some further effort would have to decide on asset sales or leases.

With this kind of consolidation, parishes like Ouachita likely would see better performance at reduced costs with a citizenry better empowered to oversee government. And maybe prevent embarrassing antics by political appointees.

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