Parish President Rick Nowlin spoke to the Walter P. Ledet Coffee Club at its morning meeting April 5 at Merci Beaucoup.
Nowlin traveled to Washington DC recently to lobby for funding for the El Camino Real Highway project. The plan is to build a four-lane highway east to west from Atlanta, Ga. to the Mexico border.
Nowlin also spoke about the Road District 40 tax that passed at the March 25 election. This road fund makes up 40 percent of the total budget for the Highway Department. It brings in over $1 million annually to a $2.5 million budget.
If voters hadn’t passed this tax the Parish was facing severe consequences from shutdowns of some of its operations. “It would have been a disaster,” said Nowlin.
Now that the tax passed, residents are waiting for the roads to be fixed with new money, but it’s never that easy. The bulk of the property taxes come from businesses, not residences. With 9,800 residences in the Parish, only 4,600 pay property tax and 9,400 pay less than 100 annually.
Two 2016 tax propositions would have generated $3.5 million annually for the Parish, but they were voted down by 60 percent. This would have funded approximately $30 million of road reconstruction, addressing the Parish’s major needs.
“I’m not sure voters are ready to vote for another tax but I’m not sure how long we can survive this way. Something seems to be wrong,” said Nowlin. “But you have to play the cards you’re dealt.”
There are always challenges, like the flooding last year, which shut down 151 roads in the Parish system and suspended routine maintenance work on other roads. The Parish had to pay 100 percent of the recovery costs and apply for a 75 percent rebate through FEMA. They’re now working with GOHSEP to get an additional 25 percent reimbursed to the Parish.
But there’s always a silver lining. The Parish has gone three straight years with a balanced budget. Head Start was renewed with a 5-year grant, which will help serve 309 children, which costs approximately $2 million per year. To receive the grant the Parish has matched it with in-kind services since 1991. These services include facilities, maintenance and more. Under the Police Jury, the Parish had to frequently make a cash match because the in-kind wasn’t enough.
A coffee club member asked about the scarifying of roads in the Parish. Nowlin said this is a nation-wide problem with some states turning their highways into gravel roads. While some may see this as a step backward, Nowlin said when planning for the future overlay of roads scarifying is required as one of the first steps in the process. The Council will address the scarification of King Hill and Sisson Roads in an upcoming meeting as residents have turned in petitions for the work to be done on their roads.