By Jason Methvin/Opinion
We deserve better? Natchitoches Parish is in dire straits. We already know that Louisiana is last in the United States in quality of life according to US News and World Reports. We have the worst business climate in the country. But what does that mean to us? The average citizen of Natchitoches Parish makes $22,000 per year. That is seven thousand dollars less than the state average of $29,000 per year and almost $10,000 less than the national average of 31,000. Our parish is not growing because people are not moving here. Our population has been mired between 35,000 and 39,000 for the better part of two decades. We who call this place home see our children leave to find fortunes elsewhere. We see class after class of Northwestern graduates walk across that stage with their diplomas and walk out of the parish without pausing to think or to dream of making it here. If you don’t have government job here, you are struggling. Restaurateurs, hoteliers and business owners will tell you that they struggle eleven months out of the year. How can this be in postcard Natchitoches? Look no further than the political machinations of our elected officials this week.
On Monday, Mayor Posey and the city council were extolling the virtues of an overbudget sports complex that will somehow be in high demand but lose money. The Mayor was at his condescending best when he told the I49 merchants and hotel owners that they must collect an additional one cent sales tax over and above the additional 2 percent they already collect because it is their privilege to be located right next to Posey Parc. According to the Mayor’s imaginary pro forma, the survival of the Sports complex depends upon this tax, and hey, we get to save Northwestern too! One wonders how in the face of an impoverished city that the council can even imagine that an additional sales taxes will make the lives of its citizens better? One further wonder how a city council can hide behind the legal fiction of a TIF district to bypass the will of the people who elected them. After all, they aren’t taxing the people; they are taxing the people’s livelihood. But I’m sure they don’t care. Over the last twenty years, they have measured their successes in publicly funded decorative bricks and mortar, not in the increasing prosperity of their people.
Not to be outdone, the parish council held a hastily called meeting to consider returning to the glory days of yore, when police jurors ran their districts like fiefs, doling out road funds to their loyal subjects. Behold the sight of three council members standing for their last election desperately trying to trick the voters of Natchitoches Parish into doing away with the Parish Charter and the term limits contained therein. Then behold the fourth councilman leave his spine at the door so that we could waste more money in the spring on another futile attempt to go back to the good ole days. Never mind the fact that such an election is a thumb in the eyes of Natchitoches Parish voters who will be electing one of three candidates to a position that will disappear if the parish council has its way. We would be better off if we had elected Messrs. Hogg, Coltrane and Enos to the council. At least they would have taken the time to read the charter provisions about public meetings and the amendment thereof.
All is not lost though. There are beacons of hope here. The school board and its new blood are rolling up their sleeves and getting to work. The Natchitoches Parish Medical Center is actively and aggressively recruiting top medical talent to make Natchitoches Parish a vibrant medical hub for northwest Louisiana. Northwestern State University is led by people who understand that they must engage the people who support them over and above the stipend they get from the state. The parish is experiencing a housing boom due to the imaginations of two transplants who are saying “Why not?” And one of our own is on the BESE board. But if we allow for the city and parish governments to impose unwanted vanity projects upon us without giving us the opportunity to vote, then we deserve to see our children leave, our fortunes fade and what little we have dwindle into dust.
We deserve better.