Perhaps the most jarring item on the Parish Council agenda Monday night, Aug. 20, was a brief regarding a Parish road maintenance fund forecast Parish President Rick Nowlin requested Parish Treasurer Debbie Miley prepare for the next two fiscal years (2019 and 2020), along with a comparison to the highway fund budget last year (2017) and this year (2018). SEE DOCUMENTS BELOW.
Over the past few years, the Parish Government has dealt with the enormous problem of trying to maintain roads with the funds it has available. Its efforts, for the most part have been directed to keeping as many roads passable as possible. Major improvements and/or asphalt overlays are simply beyond the Parish’s financial capability.
In addition, due to the frequent major storms experienced in the past three years and the cost of road repairs they made necessary, the Parish had to expend large sums of money on projects not included in its regular maintenance plans. Even though FEMA has reimbursed the Parish for up to 75% of the cost on some of these projects, the cost to the Parish has been heavy and the reimbursements can take over a year to be received.
At the same time, operating costs have increased, especially in health care costs. This has put additional pressure on the highway fund.
The figures show that, at the present level of revenues for road maintenance, the highway budgets will continue to decline to dangerously low levels. In fact, by the end of 2019, the department balance carried forward into 2020 may not be sufficient to fund operations in early 2020. This means the Parish may have to start reducing its present level of road maintenance in 2019. This would be a disaster for the Parish. Even so, the Parish will make the reductions necessary to stay within the funds available.
The administration presented a plan that would not only improve the road maintenance effort but also provide funds for much-needed improvements to and re-construction of major roads. The plan includes both an ad valorem road tax to be collected and spent on a district basis and a sales tax plan for parish-wide improvements. Both are necessary to implement the scale of improvements truly needed.
If the tax measures fail to be approved by the voters, the Parish will have no choice but to scale back its highway repair work.
Nowlin understands the reluctance to support new taxes of any type. Taxes aren’t popular at any time. The problem the Parish faces is that, although most residents may say that the condition of the roads should be top priority, the amount of funds dedicated to roads is very small when compared to other local government functions. Specifically, the road tax represents less than 4% of the total property taxes paid every year.
Other agenda items included:
- Appoint Joseph Jones and re-appoint Laney Wright, Ricky Sanders, Charles Roge, and Lamarr McGaskey to the Natchitoches Parish Fire District 1 Board.
- Reappoint Johnny Nobles to the Natchitoches Parish Fire District 2 Board.
- Appoint Mardy Summerlin for the Natchitoches Parish Tourist Commission.
- Introduce ordinance adding CP-Tel as a cable franchise providing cable services to Parish residents outside the City.
- Adopt ordinance for budget revision for the 2018 operating budget.
- Adopt ordinance to amend the 2018 proposed budget revision submitted on July 23 requesting a transfer not to exceed $30,000 from the special projects line item in the highway fund 101 to a new fund for the Odra Levee Project.
- Approve Natchitoches Regional Hospital request for a bond application and the supporting NPHSD bond resolution (SEE DOCUMENT BELOW).
- Authorize Parish President to renew leases with John Deere for five motor graders.
- Approve getting annual insurance quotes for Parish insurance.
- Execute an agreement between owner and contractor with WL Bass Construction for the Hampton Road Improvement Project.