The Natchitoches Parish Government started with a lot of fresh faces at the beginning of 2020. Parish President John Richmond entered the first year of his first term facing matters left on the table by outgoing Council members after end-of-year Council meetings lacked a quorum.
The first order of business was to hold a special called meeting in January to set dates for the first two meetings of the year. This is business that’s usually handled at the end of the year.
January is also when discussions with TESI began for the Parish to assume the donation of the Payne Sewer System. This was the first step in accepting a grant of approximately $750,000 that would allow the parish to set up a committee to oversee the Payne Sewer System. Residents in the Payne Subdivision area had been experiencing blockages and sewage backup into their homes. Unfortunately the end of 2020 did not see a resolution to this issue as TESI reneged on its deal with the Parish.
The Council met briefly in March amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, later moving meetings to the big Courtroom in the Natchitoches Parish Courthouse so it could adhere to Covid safety precautions. Access to the courthouse in general became more restricted as masks were required and temperatures were checked. Despite all the challenges thrown at it, the Parish Government continued to move forward. A new Treasurer was brought onboard, June Lockhart, and Public Works Director Johnny Salard.
However, another employee’s job was put on the chopping block as some members of the Council tried to cut the Council Clerk’s position to part-time, which would mean a big cut in the salary. This was finally laid to rest at the December meeting after being a controversial item that seemed to haunt the Council’s meeting agenda for several months.
In May the Council approved a zoning change to allow the Natchitoches Regional medical Center to build a medical clinic along Hwy. 6 in Robeline. This is part of the hospital’s mission to bring medical services to rural areas of the parish.
In June the Council adopted the adjusted millage rate or rates and set forth the adjusted millage rates or rates and roll forward to millage rates or rates not exceeding the maximum authorized rate or rates.
The Health Unit collected 3 mills last year and the legislative auditor rolled it back to 2.94 mills. Public Buildings collected 3 mills in 2019 and was also rolled back to 2.94 mills. The Library levied 8 mills last year and was rolled back to 7.85 mills. Road District 40 was at 7.85 mills and was rolled back to 5 mills. Exempt municipalities went from 1.73 to 1.7 mills while general alimony went from 3.47 to 3.41 mills.
The final verdict was to leave the millages as they are with the exception of the Road District 40 tax, which they will roll forward. The Council will revisit rolling the other millages forward next year.
August brought an unexpected decision by the Council to deny several industrial tax exemptions by Marco, LLC for the RoyOMartin Plywood manufacturing plant in Chopin. Another application was for Alliance Compressors, LLC. The Council went back on its decision at a later meeting for the two applications by Marco, LLC after receiving a visit from its CEO, Roy O Martin III.
RoyOMartin and Alliance are some of the highest tax contributors to the Natchitoches Parish economy. They’re also top employers and top contributors to further economic development in the Parish.The Natchitoches Parish School Board and the City Council also recently approved tax exemption applications for RoyOMartin and Alliance.
August was also the month Hurricane Laura rolled into Natchitoches Parish. The Parish President joined other local leaders to discuss recovery efforts in the aftermath of the destructive storm. Many Parish residents went a week or longer without electricity while dealing with the high temperatures and humidity of the South.
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 and expired 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.