“The state of our city is strong,” said Mayor Ronnie Williams Jr. at the opening of a livestream for the 2022 State of the City Address on Feb. 1. According to Williams, the city is experiencing unprecedented economic growth that hasn’t been seen since the revitalization of the downtown area during the 1980s.
“I proclaim that the state of our city has grown even stronger over the past year and a half,” Williams added.
Since taking office he has worked to facilitate job creation:
Expansion of Community Care (adds around 40 high quality jobs)
Establish an auto mall at I-49 (create untold number of jobs)
Bring full size menu and drive through Chick-fil-A at the corner of East Fifth Street and Keyser Avenue
Starbucks will open on Feb. 14
Endorsement of South River Commons Shopping Center to help attract more businesses
“Stay tuned to see what’s about to happen next,” he added.
Williams expressed his appreciation for the tireless work of the city’s tourism professionals, which has paid off. Last year was a major year for lodging at area hotels. Actually, it was the best year for lodging since 1985.
“I’m excited to continue to partner with stakeholders to ensure Natchitoches remains the amazing tourist destination we know and love,” he said.
Natchitoches is also a diverse city. Williams explained how he has worked to engage stakeholders in West Natchitoches and held business expansion talks with business owners on Texas Street.
In anticipation of the continued economic growth on Texas Street and in response to various safety concerns the City has worked to get funding through the capital outlay process for the City’s first roundabout at the intersection of Texas and Dixie Streets.
The City will also continue to seek out additional funding for projects and initiatives to enhance the City. Williams recently traveled to Washington DC to lobby for the Raise Grant for 2021. While this grant was not received for the 2021 year, work has already started to improve the application for 2022. If awarded in the next cycle, the City would be able to implement the Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan, adopted in 2020, but the City will also be poised to make the much needed lighting and infrastructure improvements along the Texas Street corridor.
Looking ahead, the City wants to work to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit by:
Publishing a and promoting a streamlined business ownership process
Launch campaign to teach people how to start their very own business
Work to establish a small scale manufacturing presence in the City with a goal to see the start of a “Made in Natchitoches” brand to aggressively promote products made in the City and the greater Natchitoches area for statewide and nationwide sales
“Implementing these and other initiatives will create an environment where generational wealth is stimulated in our city,” said Williams.
Looking next to the City’s dedication to its youth and their development, Williams said that as a community Natchitoches have to be intentional about engaging its youth in uplifting opportunities like bringing back the Boys & Girls Club. With plans to open in March of 2022, it will serve approximately 100 children.
The Mayor’s Youth Council, which began in the 1990s, kicked off again with its first meeting in January with 32 students in grades 11-12 bringing in their unique perspectives and innovative thinking by offering suggestions to help make the city better for all residents. They will learn how their government works and work collaboratively to compose a plan of action concerning pressing issues.
Many youth would also benefit from a summer employment program. The City’s Parks & Recs Department already employs students, but City Hall, Public Works and Community Development will actively seek and employ students as helping hands to complete daily tasks during the summer of 2022.
Mayor Williams said he is also determined to reinstate the City of Natchitoches Summer Camp to ensure they have constructive summer activities to occupy their time.
“The work is not over,” he added. “I will continue my endeavors to improve public safety and reduce crime, bring quality jobs and living wages for all, promote transparency and community awareness, invest in infrastructure and technology, and create youth development programs.”
Priority outcomes with a goal to achieve over the next 4 years:
Increase prosperity among residents by reducing the number of people who live below the national poverty line from a current high of 43.8% to 33.8%
Decrease the number of violent crimes that occur in the city by 30%
Maintain and improve the infrastructure that directly impacts residents
Reduce blight by 25%
Expand the number of households with access to broadband internet by 10% from 59.7% to 69.7%
Regarding ARPA monies, the City has received $3.2 of the total $6.4 million it will receive. Eligible uses for these funds are listed below (SEE GRAPHIC).
Addressing the pay for many of the City employees is a priority target for 2022 for Mayor Williams. An increase in pay for City employees will require a permanent revenue source.
Williams added, “We must invest money in workforce training to ensure development of strong community of workers and a bright and prosperous future for our great city.”
He also said the city must invest money in community parks to provide safe and quality areas for children to play. This includes the renovation of the city pool and pool house, which has been in disrepair for a long time.
“With the influx of ARPA monies, my goal will be to redouble the street budget for 2022, which will be a swift and much needed impact on residents and tourists alike,” said Williams. “We must continue to employ grant writers at both the local and federal level to be poised to seek out competitive grant opportunities.”
Guidance for the use of ARPA monies also allows for funds to be allocated to the increase in violence in communities including law enforcement officers focused on advancing community policing, enforcement efforts to reduce gun violence (including prosecution), and technology and equipment to support law enforcement response.
Yet another use is for the construction/rehabilitation of water treatment plants. The City’s goal is to have the capacity to produce 10 million gallons of water per day. An engineering team investigated two possibilities which include rehabilitating the City’s current plant and building a fourth plant all located where the plant currently is. The second option is to build a new facility on land outside the Mill District. Whatever option is chosen, this will be a major expense.
Another major expense was the creation of Parc Natchitoches. Today the debt service is at $1.8 million. Only $323,169 were generated from Sales Tax District C.
“These numbers are daunting,” said Williams.
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