By Corey Poole
The Parish Council still seemed hard pressed to make decisions on two items tabled from last month’s meeting. The adoption of an ordinance to establish the order of business for meetings and receipt of comments from the public was controversial at Monday night’s meeting, June 19.
Chairman Russell Rachal said the body hasn’t abided by the law in its home rule charter that says it must adopt such an ordinance. However, what members Patsy Ward Hoover and Chris Paige were worried about was limiting the time the public can speak before the Council and determining who has the authority to control situations should they get out of hand.
Hoover asked that the ordinance be amended to change the wording from “The Chair of the Council” shall have the authority to limit the amount of time during the public comment period that each speaker shall be afforded…to “The Council by majority vote.” This amendment was approved and so was the ordinance after further discussion.
The Council took no action on the second item of old business, the scarification of badly deteriorated paved roads in the Parish System. The consensus was that the parish president would include the roads selected for scarification in his annual plan, which he will present to the Council in three months.
Hoover asked that whatever decision is made, efforts will be made through radio and advertising to inform residents as each road is selected for scarification. This will allow residents to have a say in the process. Council member Rodney Bedgood said he’s talked with a few residents in his district who are against the scarification of their road.
Parish President Rick Nowlin brought some good news before the Council. While the state eliminated funding for three Capital Outlay projects in May, Nowlin said the House concurred with the Senate amendments to HB 2 on June 19. The final amended bill contains the following local project funds:
• CoCo Bed Road: $280,000 for design and construction
• Payne Subdivision Streets: $500,000 for design and construction (phase 1)
• Fish Hatchery Road: $125,000 for design
• Blanchard Road: $280,000 for design and construction
• Old River Bridge: $610,000 for design and construction (This is only partial funding and will be held over until next year when the additional money can be acquired.)
• Courthouse Security: $480,000 for design and construction (Additional money will be put into this project, which should total $800,000.)
• OCS: $6,000
The bill also includes funds for the Parish Communications District project, the Council on Aging and the Veterans Park.
In other business, Paige introduced Payne subdivision residents who were anxious to know the status of construction on the bridge that’s currently out. Public Works Director Nick Verret said this is dependent on progress with FEMA on determining eligibility for reimbursement. FEMA has begun site visits to damaged roads in the Parish, but the priority is on the roads that are currently being worked on.
Council member Doug de Graffenried spoke up and asked why something couldn’t be done about the bridge using some of the windfall from the agreement with the Sheriff’s Office that is saving the Parish money.
“I’ve sat on this Council for all these months and for once I’d like to fix something,” he said. Nowlin said they have the opportunity to build a really good bridge and have FEMA pay for the majority of it.
“We’re trying to stretch the money as best we can,” he said.
When it came to money, Hoover and Paige questioned Verret and Nowlin on parish employee salaries. Paige said that if they’re asking people to put up with hard times in the road system, then it would be a good commitment to put some money from the salary of the recently vacated assistant director position at the Highway Department back into the community.
“The point is well taken,” said Nowlin. “We will reassess the job, but we need to get the right person and people that are well qualified don’t come cheap.”
Verret said that if they took all the salaries of the Highway Department and added in the Parish President’s salary, they would be able to overlay 3 miles.
“We’re talking dollars and donuts here,” he said. “I wish everyone could have this perspective. We need millions, not a few thousand here or there.”
Hoover threw out a grenade when she questioned the salaries of the two assistants she claimed Verret has. However, Nowlin said they don’t exist. The assistant director position functions as an operation manager and the next position is an equipment operator.
“We’re treading in stuff we shouldn’t,” said Paige. “Let’s move on to the next item on the agenda. I’m sorry I brought it up.”
Other agenda items included:
• Renewing contract for solid waste bin site in Kisatchie
• Officially accept recommendation of April Wade as the new director for Head Start
• The item to consider renewing the lease agreement with Ernest Self for the Creston Polling Place for $1,000 annually was tabled.
• Adopt an ordinance to adopt millage rates for the 2016 tax year
• Reappoint Vanessa Stanfield to the Natchitoches Parish Children and Youth Planning Board
• Appoint Troy DuwayneGarder to the Natchitoches Fire District 9 Board
• Reappoint Johhny R. Nobles to the Natchitoches Parish Fire District 2 Board
• Appoint Wilbert Lee Wise to the Natchitoches Parish Fire District 2 Board
Campti Field of Dreams Executive Director Donna Isaacs introduced a group of youth to the Council who participated in the museum’s Tobacco Annihilators Program, which has run for the past year. They learned about the impact and ways tobacco companies, that spend around $9.5 million yearly in advertising, target youth in America with deceptive ads to make smoking “cool.” The group holds monthly meetings, visits area stores to examine the tobacco displays and organizes community awareness events like the Tobacco Free Jamboree June 18. They asked the Council for its continued support with smoke-free efforts and events in the Parish.