City Council debates finding additional funds when facing budget shortfall versus misuse of taxpayer money

The City Council approved an ordinance at its April 26 meeting to execute an instrument entitled “Service Agreement” under which the City will contract for consulting and professional services from Merchant Mcintyre & Associates, LLC, related to pursuing and obtaining Federal Funding.

Natchitoches Regional Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Kirk Soileau came before the Council to tell them how the hospital engaged the firm 2 years ago to assist with federal grant funding. Currently the hospital has $9 million in grants on the table. They were awarded a $350,000 grant for Tele Health and a $3 million EDA grant (80/20 cost share) to build a clinic in Robeline to service Western Natchitoches Parish. The firm has also submitted an application for a $2.2 million one-year, non matching grant to assist us with recruiting and educating nurses within the community and an application for a $275,000 4-year, non matching EMS grant. Solieau said they’re waiting to hear back on these soon. He added that the firm’s commitment to the hospital is that on an annual basis, grant awards would exceed what the firm is paid per month.

Council Member at Large Betty Smith expressed her reluctance to approve this ordinance considering the Mayor’s hiring of Nicole Gray in a part-time grant writing position with a $32,000 salary.

“Why pay this other firm,” she asked. “I just don’t think that’s right at all.”

Mayor Ronnie Williams explained that the City is looking at a budget shortfall of about 8% due to Covid. He said that to improve Natchitoches (streets, drainage issues) other streams of revenue need to be found.

Smith was concerned that if the City is having shortfalls in funds why is it looking to hire a firm if it doesn’t have the money to pay officers $14 per hour, but it can pay Gray roughly $20 per hour.

“I think this is a misuse of funds for taxpayers,” she said.

Williams said Smith is entitled to her opinion, but that his goal as mayor is to generate more revenue for the residents of Natchitoches.

Council member Eddie Harrington said that he gets the “pay to play” idea when it comes to grants but he’s reluctant to spend over $7,500 a month on the DC Firm and $2,600 a month on Gray for bond farming when none of it is guaranteed.  Harrington stated they will vote on how much they are spending on grant writing in house when they debate and vote to approve the budget next month.

The ordinance passed with Smith and Dale Nielsen voting against it. Harrington voted in favor of the ordinance after being assured by Williams and City Attorney Alex Washington that the contract with the firm will be a three month trial basis and will come back before the Council for approval before it’s extended.

Other agenda items included:

ORDINANCES – FINAL:

Award The Bid For The LWCF Grant Improvements At Parc Natchitoches (BID NO. 0614)

Grant Canterra Networks, The Franchise And Rights To Lay, Construct, Lease And/ Or Operate A Cable Optics Transmission Cable, Within The Municipal Boundaries Of The City And The Right To Use The Present And Future Street, Roads, Highways, Alleys, Bridges, And Public Ways In Such City And Owned And Controlled By Such City For Such Purposes

ORDINANCES – INTRODUCTION:

Authorize A Franchise In Favor Of Cane River Paddle & Pedal Sports, L.L.C. To Operate A Rental Boat Business Within The City Limits Of The City Of Natchitoches, Confirming The Term Of The Franchise, Conditions, And Considerations For Said Franchise And Authorizing The Mayor To Execute The Said Franchise Agreement On Behalf Of The City Providing For Advertising, Further Providing For Severability, And Further Providing For A Repealer And Effective Date Of Ordinance.

Adopt the Millage Rate For The Tax Year 2021

Provide for the incurring of debt and issuance of sales tax refunding bonds, series 2021 of the City to refund utility bond 2018/2019 series refinancing for a lower interest rate. This is $290,000 worth of savings to the City (3.7% to a 3.29%).

RESOLUTIONS:

Advertise And Accept Bids Consisting Of Runway 7-25 And Taxiway B1 Reconstruction, Airport Improvement Program No. 3-22-0034-025-2021 (Bid No. 0636) This will be a $3 million project (95% paid for by FAA 5% paid for by LA DOTD).

Execute Change Order No. 1 To The Contract Between The City Of Natchitoches And ASB Utility For The Water Treatment System Renovations, Backwash Effluent Transfer System (Bid No. 0626)

Execute Change Order No. 5 To The Contract Between The City Of Natchitoches And Regional Construction, LLC For Phase 3 Street Rehabilitation (Bid No. 0629)

Accept And Execute A Grant Agreement From The Federal Aviation Administration For The Airport Coronavirus Relief Grant Program (ACRGP) Awarded To The Natchitoches Regional Airport ($13,000)

Appoint Garrett Anderson To Fill The Unexpired Term Of Mr. Tom Matuscha As A Member Of The Mayor’s Health And Fitness Council For The City Of Natchitoches

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

The next scheduled City Council meeting will be Monday, May 10, 2021.

A Public Hearing on the City of Natchitoches Budget for the fiscal year June 1, 2021 through May 31, 2022 will be held on Monday, May 10, 2021 at 4:30 PM, at the Natchitoches City Council Chambers, 716 Second Street, Natchitoches, LA 71457


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5 thoughts on “City Council debates finding additional funds when facing budget shortfall versus misuse of taxpayer money

  1. What grants have been written and awarded since hiring a grant writer? If this person cannot get any grants will they continue to be on payroll? Did the entire council vote to hire a grant writer? If not, why?

  2. Why don’t Ronnie Williams pay her out of his pocket???? This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!!!! Seems to me the city has been doing fine like it is without hiring someone else!!!! Money short the Mayor spending it like it’s not short!!!! Seems like he’s just trying to see who all he can hire on and make a position for them!!!

  3. The City is slated to receive $6.45 million in funding from the FFIS Local Coronavirus Fiscal Recovery Fund. What will that money be allocated to?

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