To the people who are trying to get a handle on what is going on with the roads in Natchitoches parish and what is being done to repair decades of abuse and inattention I offer this letter as a place to start. BEWARE: you are being fed a daily stream of poison and misinformation designed to further an agenda. I offer you this insight. Take a couple of hours of your time and go back to the beginning of the posts/discussions on Fix Our Roads in Natchitoches Parish on facebook and read not only the articles on it but each and every comment to those articles. As time progresses you will see how comments from the same people start a subtle shift in direction. As you read these comments and see the subtle shift in direction ask yourself “Now why would they say this when just a little while ago they were saying that”. Let your conscience be your guide while you are reading.
Not long ago I retired from a job that was the love of my life. I drove a truck cross-country for over thirty years and was forced out of the truck because of a defibrillator being planted in my chest as the result of a failing heart. One side of my heart is dead and I have only 20% function. I don’t say this looking for sympathy. Lord, no. I’ve lived a full and wonderful life and if God says it’s time to come home one day soon then I’m ready. I say this just so you will know that I have no axe to grind in this charade. There is no benefit to be had by me by taking sides or slinging poison darts. I’m here to do what I can to help care for my soon to be 86 year old mother and nothing else.
While I was in the truck I drove hazardous chemicals out of the Houston area and after my step father died I would take one long three or four-day weekend per month off to come back here and do the mowing, bush hogging, house and fence repairing etc. As the years progressed and the roads deteriorated it caused me concern. When I retired recently and came back here I set out to see if I could find out why. I asked Mom who our Police Juryman was because I wanted to pay him a visit and was told that we don’t have a Police Juryman any more. She couldn’t comprehend what the changes were and couldn’t tell me where to go to find out why. Well, after they installed my satellite dish I started searching for answers. It was there that I learned that the form of our parish government had changed from the Police Jury form to the Home Rule Charter. The deeper I searched the more questions I had so I went to some folks that had been family friends for over forty years and were once involved in politics on the state level and started finding out some of the answers.
I won’t go into all the sordid details that I was told but suffice it to say that the wonderful folks in Natchitoches parish where I was born and raised haven’t always been told the truth. Imagine that. I always joked when I was younger that Louisiana had the best politicians that money could buy. Little did I know how close to the truth that was. My purpose in starting this quest was to find out why the roads were in such horrible conditions. It still is. In making my monthly trips home it was completely obvious when you crossed the state line. Sure didn’t need signs to let you know when you crossed from Texas into Louisiana. Didn’t matter which way I came you knew instantly that you were now in Louisiana.
My families old home place and the one I now live on is in western Natchitoches parish between Robeline and Marthaville. As a kid my cousin and I would ride our bicycles down these backwoods dirt roads. From where we lived you could ride down the Freeman Loop to the Rawls loop down Rock Hill (loved flying down that hill on a bicycle), to Anthony Church road and continue on seemingly into infinity without ever crossing out on a blacktop road. As I grew older and started driving we went down that same hill in an old 54 Ford pickup without a bed on it and it was still exciting to fly down hill. My point in this is that indeed you could fly down that hill and feel somewhat safe. Can’t do that down Freeman Loop, Rawls Loop, Rock Hill Rd., Anthony Church Rd. now. Can’t do that down ANY Natchitoches parish rural road unless you are suicidal and have a death wish. One of the roads I used to drive down frequently was the Robeline to Provencal Rd. I tried it when I first came home. Only once. That is a hideous excuse for a road. Almost need a half-track or at least a tractor to go down it.
So anyone who tells me that I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to the roads in western Natchitoches parish can stuff it. I was raised on them. In college I dated a girl from Readhimer and got very familiar with some of the dirt roads over in that section of the parish (ever gone down a strange dirt road near midnight looking for a place to go parking?) Nah, me either. So when I tell you that there have been decades of abuse and lack of maintenance I know of which I speak.
Fast forward to today and the conditions. One by one I found what I believe to be the answers to the questions I sought. Those of us older folks can remember back to 1986 and the prices of various items of the time. A loaf of bread, a can of tuna, a Coke and a candy bar etc. Look at those prices today. I have a life long love of tuna and very well remember getting three cans for a dollar at regular price and four cans for a dollar on sale. The cheap stuff is a dollar a can now and we won’t even go into a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread. I had a budget for groceries then and could easily feed my family if we bought judiciously. Could I feed my family the same way now on that same budget? You already know the answer to that question. My monthly budget for groceries would be gone in a week. What I found out in my researching is that we are asking our highway department to do just that with our roads. We are graciously giving them the same amount of money today as we did in 1986 to repair and maintain our roads. Doesn’t make a tea tinkers darn what form of government we have it just can’t be done. What little was done was done by robbing Peter to pay Paul and folks just as in your personal finances it doesn’t work. Someone isn’t going to get paid at the end of the month. But there are lots of folks on here who will tell you that’s exactly what they want the road crews to do. Fix the roads and bring them up to spec. using the same amount of money that we gave them thirty years ago. Anyone with just a smidgen of common sense will tell you it can’t be done. WAKE UP. You’re driving on the answer to that question. And now you’re stomping your feet and pointing your fingers like a school kid and saying that parish government isn’t fixing your roads. Grow up. They’re not going to be fixed as long as you keep hog tying their hands. Just as you can’t feed your family on a 1986 budget you can’t properly repair and maintain roads on a 1986 budget.
Without going into all the details that the naysayers don’t want to hear I believe that the current way of governing lends itself to a very transparent entity that can be trusted to spend money wisely. Some folks on this site are saying “So they balanced a budget. Want a cookie?? Well, as a matter of fact you can have a cookie because there is money in the budget to give you one. You’ve gone from a form of government that was audited by the state 15 times in 18 years because of spending “irregularities” to one that has shown they know how to budget properly and all you can do is point fingers at it. That’s one heck of an accomplishment. You’ve got a parish President who makes 87,000/year. So what. I made twice that in the truck and didn’t have to put up with all the BS he does on a daily basis. I personally wouldn’t have his job at double the salary. Let’s see, the current administration saved the taxpayers almost a quarter million dollars in it’s first year versus the old NPPJ??? Pretty good return on investment if you ask me. Is it perfect?? Not by a long shot. There is always room for improvement and I believe that those weak areas are being addressed. And then I get hit with the obnoxious statement that “Well, they’ve been there three years and nothing’s been done on my road.” Go back and re-read the previous paragraphs. Because of the court battle with the NPPJ they didn’t take office until the end of 2012 and had to operate under a budget that the NPPJ came up with in 2013. Last year was the first year for them to come up with a budget and tackle what they did and come in balanced. Not a bad way to start. In one year they accomplished what hadn’t been done in the previous twenty or longer.
What they have done is appoint an ad-hoc committee to study parish finances and the road/bridge department to try to come up with some answers so that we out in the woods can have some decent roads. That committee has had two meetings open to the public (which very few cared to come to) but has made some major headway into solving the problem and has come up with three possible alternatives. Alternative number one: Do nothing and just carry on day-to-day while we watch our roads disintegrate into nothing and our vehicle maintenance costs skyrocket. Let them completely collapse so that police, fire and EMS can’t get back into our homes, school buses will start refusing to pick up your kids and you’ll be forced to drive them to school. Oh, and while you’re out swing by the post office because your mail carrier can’t get to your house. Alternative number two: find an additional 1.3 million dollars in revenue. This would allow the parish to completely rebuild all its road network in ten years and improve all of our quality of life. And finally alternative 3: Take this same additional 1.3 million and float an 80 million dollar bond issue. You get all of the benefits of alternative number two but it can be done in five years by using contractors who build roads for a living and will do it the right way while at the same time freeing up the local road dept. to be able to do much better maintenance. Would this 80 million dollars just be given to them right away to spend?? Nope. It would be deposited into a trust account with a trustee who has a long list of qualifications that must be met before they will release one dollar on any project. Hmmm. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see which is the better of the three alternatives.
The committee will be wrapping up their investigations at the end of this month with an open meeting on June 25th at five o’clock in the courthouse. I urge all Natchitoches parish residents to be there and hear what they have to say. I would also request that all parish residents attend the monthly Council meetings so that you can see first hand what they are doing and the floor is open for you to say what you feel and ask questions. This way it is you who has your hand on the checkbook and your say in what checks are written. They are your employees and just as you expect them to have rules for their employees, you make the rules for yours.
Thanks for listening.