Mayor Ronnie Williams Jr. held a State of the City Address on Feb. 1 as a way to make good on his campaign promise to be transparent. Modern technology offers options for the mayor to deliver his address in a way that’s responsible.
Mayor Williams hit the ground running after his inauguration celebration in September. His goal is to usher in a better tomorrow for all residents.
He began his address Monday night by saying that the state of the City is strong. Within his first week after being sworn into office Hurricane Laura blew into town. So many residents described the damage as the worst they’d ever seen. Mayor Williams worked hard to assess damage and communicate with linemen from the utility department and residents. The arduous task of restoring normalcy was slow but steady.
Laura left her mark, but Williams said the best part was seeing people pull together in a way that was truly inspirational.
One new thing that Mayor Williams has implemented is a monthly newsletter that will include information and updates from each city department and mayor’s activities during the previous month.
He is also working diligently to enact policies and change that are reflective of the residents of Natchitoches. He wants to keep people informed with how the City is handling its day to day business.
The City hosted a virtual economic development seminar and staff completed Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training. Several advisory boards have been reignited or established including Keep Natchitoches Beautiful, Mayors Health and Fitness Council and the newly created Economic Development Council.
The City has expanded its use of technology to be more efficient and competitive with other municipalities. The Council approved a proposal to improve the City’s finances by shortening the 2015 City bond by 5 years from payoff dat in 2036 to payoff date in 2031. It pays off the 2013 bond with $65,000 and creates an overall cash flow savings of $300,000.
There’s been a steady erosion of the City’s financial reserves as a result of excessive spending and a turning away from fiscal responsibility. Various expenditures will need to be addressed but the funds have been depleted. Five years ago the City boasted $30 million in the bank. That’s been dwindled down to just over $13 million today.
“I accept the challenge ahead to build our reserves and budget for major projects we’ll need to be completed in the coming months and years,” said Williams.
Mayor Williams said he will work to enhance economic development across all geographic areas.
“I want to make major improvements in so many areas, but I will be a fiscally responsible mayor,” he added.
Mayor Williams also addressed the increase in some crime in recent years. He said the City’s approach to reducing crime must be a multi faceted one. Change will not come overnight.
“We must all work together to usher in a safer tomorrow,” he said. “Together we can stop the senseless violence that’s trying to invade our town.”
Many key changes are forthcoming as a result of research and conversations with law enforcement officials and community advocates and leaders. Even one murder is too many. Are you willing to sponsor a neighborhood watch program in your area?
Mayor Williams talked about the heroes that are the men and women that walk the thin blue line. City Police officers receive the best training available and the support they need to uphold the oath they swore.
Gratitude was also expressed for every City employee who works hard every day to fulfill the service needs of our residents.
“Your commitment is not forgotten,” said Mayor Williams.
He went on to state that many crime problems are a direct result of poverty. Natchitoches is best City in the world. It’s primed and ready to take part in an economic recovery unlike any our City has ever seen. Yet despite its beauty and tourism, nearly 44% of residents live in poverty.
On March 13 the City will partner with area banks to hold a First Time Home Buyer’s Seminar at the Natchitoches Events Center. Home ownership is one piece of the prosperity puzzle. The other part of a strong local economy is expanding and retaining small businesses. 2020 was an unkind year. The Covid pandemic is affecting small businesses.
Mayor Williams is calling for the implementation of a program to subsidize rent by $500 for the first year a business is open. The program also allows funds for existing businesses to apply for facade improvements up to $6,000.
In other news the Natchitoches Community Alliance has hired a new Executive Director, Mike Ferdinand, who is moving to Natchitoches from South Texas and brings decades of economic development experience. He will start at the end of February.
Overall, there are continued infrastructure improvements that need to be completed.
“To be fair to our previous administration, one reason for the education in our reserves is tied to increased spending in the area of street rehabilitation,” said Williams. Voters approved monies specifically allocated for water and sewer to be used on street improvements and to help partially fund Parc Natchitoches.
The City needs to look at how it can pay for the improvements that have to be made at the Water Treatment Plant No. 3 and the necessity for a Water Treatment Plant No. 4. To rehabilitate Plant No. 3 would be an investment of $4 million from taxpayers. The construction of Plant No. 4 would be an additional cost of $13 million.
“We’ve discussed on many occasions how to finance such a large expense: bonds, reserves and yes the dreadful increase in some fees,” said Williams.
However, the updates to Plant No. 3 and construction of Plant No. 4 will not affect will not affect the discoloration. The only way to correct the problem is to replace old rusting cast iron pipes with pvc ones, which will cost a pretty penny.
“We will continue to improve our roads but we want to do it in a responsible way,” said Williams.
Natchitoches is facing its share of wicked problems, which can be difficult to solve because it deals with getting people to change their individual behavior. These wicked problems include heinous murder, excessive littering, bad race relations to some extent and recycling.