Parish Council talks road conditions, sales tax, Council Clerk position

Natchitoches Parish School Board President Billy Benefield and Board Vice President Steven Harris came before the Parish Council at its Monday night meeting, Dec. 21 to present a proclamation to the Council regarding the repair of dangerous roads throughout the Parish.

“It’s a safety issue getting children to and from school,” said Benefield. He added that school buses struggle to safely travel down the roads and many end up getting stuck.

“We just want to be in partnership with you all [the Parish Council] to help,” said Harris.

The following groups are in support of the proclamation to advise Council to repair roads in Parish and get funds to do so.

Natchitoches Parish School Board
Natchitoches Parish Communications District
Town of Campti
Ecco Ride Bus Company
Greater Central Louisiana Realtors Association
Village of Natchez
Village of Goldonna
Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Office
Women’s Resource Center
Village of Ashland
Ashland Volunteer Fire Department
Natchitoches Fire District No. 1 and 2

This proclamation gives the Parish Government documentation to show the need to repair the roads. The plan is to present the proclamation to legislative representatives on every level to try and secure additional funding to improve the road situation in Natchitoches Parish.

SEE PROCLAMATION BELOW

“I appeared before the Council a few years ago to talk about the condition of the roads and nothing has changed,” said Benefield. “Shame on you for that.”

Council member Chris Paige made the motion to add the proclamation to the agenda, which was seconded by Marty Cheatwood.

In other business, as part of the Office of Community Service report, Senior Companion Director Rodney Irchirl addressed the Council to tell them about $15,000 they received for the augmentation of the Senior Program in Natchitoches Parish. Some of the money will be used to purchase PPE to help senior companions when they go out to see their senior clients.

The Senior Program purchased 15 iPads. Some will be put in the hands of volunteers and some in the hands of senior clients as well to try and decrease loneliness and increase social interaction.

A familiar agenda item was brought up at the meeting yet again. Parish Council member Jim Kilcoyne made a motion to table Ordinance 019-2020 to amend the Natchitoches Parish Personnel Manual to provide that, effective January 1, 2021 the job position of Council Clerk is a part-time position, and to set the salary for that part-time position. Council members Paige, John Salter and Cheatwood voted against tabling this item.

Council member Patsy Ward Hoover brought up a meeting between Kilcoyne and Parish President John Richmond where they discussed giving the Council Clerk some additional responsibilities which would make her position full-time.

“We’ve beat this up for half the year,” said Paige. “We’ve got bigger fish to be frying up here.”

Hoover made a motion to remove the item from the agenda completely and Paige seconded. The Council approved removing this item from the agenda.

In other business, the Council announced its intention to ​consider adopting a resolution ordering and calling a special election to be held in Sales Tax District No. 1 of the Parish of Natchitoches, State of Louisiana, to authorize the levy of a sales and use tax at its January 19, 2021 meeting at 5:30 pm.

A sales and use tax voted on by Parish residents in 2010 is set to expire December 31, 2020, ​which will result in the loss of funds specifically dedicated to the Parish’s solid waste fund. Since no ballot initiative was put before the voters in 2020, a new tax will have to be approved by the voters in 2021.

The initiative will be sent to the State Bond Commission for approval. Once approved at the state level, the initiative can be placed on the April 24, 2021 ballot.  If voters approve the collection of this new tax to fund the solid waste department, the tax will become effective on July 1, 2021.

According to the Parish president, while the expiration of the tax will result in the loss of funds for the first half of 2021, there will be no interruption of services provided by the solid waste department. All bin sites will remain open and Parish residents will still be able to dump trash and limbs at the landfill free of charge.

After being asking by Paige during Monday night’s meeting Parish Treasurer Julie Lockhart did confirm that if the tax doesn’t pass in April the Parish Government will then be facing a lot of cuts.

“If we start collecting this tax again in July we will be good,” she said. The Parish will receive its last tax money in January in the amount of $250,000-300,000. The estimated revenue decrease from January to July while the tax isn’t collected is expected to be $950,000. There’s $654,000 in salaries for solid waste department covering 47 total employees.

In the proposed budget amendment, Lockhart reduced the amount of money to be transferred to the Solid Waste Fund from the Sales Tax Fund by $200,000. The proposed budget amendment recommends decreasing the following line items to the amounts listed below:

Equipment Purchases (Solid Waste 103 Fund)- $45,000
Trash Contract (Solid Waste 103 Fund)- $130,000
Capital Expense Building (Solid Waste 103 Fund)- $25,000
Total Decrease- $200,000

Lockhart said with the projected numbers, the sales tax fund should end 2021 with $500,000. The Parish is expected to go into January with $1.6 million in cash reserves.

Other agenda items included:

Show support for the Louisiana Legislature to pass legislation which will invest in the installation of high-speed internet for rural Louisiana.

Confirm re-appointment of Dennis Broadway to the Natchitoches Fire District 7 Board

Confirm appointment of Patt Todd to the Saline Lake Game and Fish Preserve Commission

Introduce Ordinance 020-2020 to affect zoning exception to the I-A Industry-Agriculture District zoning classification for a .500-acre tract of land, parcel #0040081700 for the purpose of establishing a family cemetery

Introduce Ordinance 021-2020 for 2021 Budget Amendments for the Sales Tax Fund, Solid Waste Fund and the Highway Fund

Sign agreements with the Natchitoches Humane Society and Hope for Paws for $5,000 per organization for the 2021 Budget Year

Award bid for Fish Hatchery Road Project to Regional Construction in the amount of $2,055,205.78, which is lower than the engineer’s estimate of over $2.6 million

Change Jan. 18 regular meeting date to Jan. 19 due to Dr. Martin Luther King Day

Change Feb. 15 regular meeting date to Feb. 16 due to President’s Day

Approve Change Order No. 2 for a net cost of $11.10 associated with the change order for Payne Subdivision Phase 2 Road Resurfacing of streets

Approve Change Order No. 3 for revised method of base course construction on Cheri Loop. This will provide for cleaning a short section of the existing natural outfall channel that parallels Cheri Loop Drive. This will decrease in the amount of 71-cents for a revised contract amount of $893,449

Award insurances for the Parish including but not limited to Worker’s Compensation, auto, inland marine, cyber security, property, and public officials liability

Award bids for the following highway items:
Tires- Despino’s Tires
Culverts- Coastal Culverts
Silty Clay Soil- FFT Trucking
Crushed Stone 610 Base- Madden Contractors
Stone Rip Rap 301lb- Madden Contractors
Stone Rip Rap 3X5- Madden Contractors
HP Cold Mix- Madden Contractors
Base Coarse Aggregate SB2- Madden Contractors

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