2023 State of the City Address with Mayor Ronnie Williams

Mayor Ronnie Williams started off his 2023 State of the City Address on Feb. 1 by saying that, while he’s extremely proud of the work he and his team have accomplished in the little over two years of his time in office, some of the challenges Natchitoches faces cannot be sufficiently addressed by local government alone.

“Both leaders and members of the community must team up to solve the tough issues facing our city,” he said. “One of the issues that necessitate us working hand in hand is concerning the issue of crime.”

According to Williams, the increase in violent crime over the last five years has been well documented across the nation. Contributing factors include the breakdown of the traditional family; an abundance and availability of high power weapons in America; the promotion of violence in shows, movies, and music; the inability to bring criminals to justice because of lack of resources and lack of community cooperation; and yes failure to address the growing mental health crisis.

“Although my administration has taken many steps in an effort to decrease the instances of violent crime crime reduction is best met when every level of government and the community are working harmoniously,” Williams said.

The allocation of $500,000 of American Rescue plan funds to upgrade technology at the Natchitoches Police Department will enable officers to better fight crime. Technology with artificial intelligence capabilities was installed in many of high crime areas throughout the City. 

“This new technology gives us real-time information whenever a crime is committed our second ARPA allocation greatly benefited the city’s public safety personnel by awarding them the highest premium paycheck of any City employee,” said Williams.

Additionally, Crime Stoppers is a vital tool that allows individuals to anonymously provide information concerning a crime committed in the city. Tips that lead to an arrest are eligible for a monetary reward.

During the 2022 Christmas season, the City partnered with the Historic District Business Administration to beef up security in publicly owned parking lots to help deter criminal activity.

“I strongly urge private owners of parking spaces to provide security at their sites during our many well-attended events throughout this year,” Williams added. “My number one goal is to maintain a sense of safety for our residents and visitors alike.”

A more recent crime fighting measure is the public safety videos featuring Police Chief Nikeo Collins.

“These short videos are designed to be transparent with you the public about the ongoing initiatives of the Natchitoches Police Department,” Williams explained.

In the most recent video Chief Collins discussed the NPD’s community policing efforts, the community’s role in helping to solve crimes, and the establishment of the community engagement committee, created to enhance the relationship between the community and law enforcement.

“Consistently working together is the only way we’re going to see positive results on the matter of crime reduction to wage an effective war against crime,” Williams continued. “We not only need to equip the Natchitoches Police Department with tools and technology, but we also need to arm our youth with qualities that contribute to a better society.”

This is why the mayor has worked with others in the community to help make the Boys and Girls Club of Natchitoches a reality again, as well as re-establishing the Mayor’s Youth Council during the spring semester and hiring high school students to serve residents for two months during the summer. 

These young people set up events at the Event Center, worked in I.T, worked during the Farmers Market, picked up litter with the public works department, filed records at the Finance and Natchitoches Police departments, and perform duties at the Natchitoches Fire Department. They learned the importance of punctuality and the need to give their best to their work, all while earning a nice paycheck.

Applications for the summer youth employment opportunity will open in mid-April.

“I am so proud to announce to you all that the City of Natchitoches will very soon have a branch of Big Brothers Big Sisters, making meaningful monitored matches between adult volunteers known as Bigs and children known as Littles, ages five through young adulthood,” Williams announced.

Another youth focused initiative is the Angel Fund through the City’s Parks and Recreation Department. The angel fund allows Natchitoches youth from low-income families to participate in city-sponsored sports such as basketball, baseball, softball, football, and soccer at no cost to them.

Not only has the city increased crime fighting efforts under Williams’ watch, it has also increased beautification efforts as city employees have spent hours picking up litter in various parts of the city.

“Addressing our litter problem however cannot be effectively done only by city employees and a few volunteers,” said Williams. “Teamwork is necessary in this matter as well. The best solution to this wicked problem is for people to stop littering our streets and start putting that trash in the mini trash cans located throughout the city. Even though there are people among us who don’t care about obeying the law concerning litter, that’s certainly not the case for everyone who lives in Natchitoches.

Recently a public service announcement was issued by the Natchitoches Police Department concerning common enforcement of the junk car ordinance, which has been a law for many years, but hasn’t been adequately enforced because of personnel shortages and lack of available records.

Thanks to a partnership with the City Marshal’s Office and a Pineville wrecker, the City will now enforce the abandoned vehicle ordinance. The goal is not to confiscate people’s personal property. The city will not make any money from enforcing this well-established law.

Yet another initiative Williams believes is going to sustain Natchitoches and help it grow in the future is the City of Natchitoches Master Plan, which looks at ways to promote the development of more workforce housing, ways to improve the medical corridor, changes that can be made to stimulate growth along the University corridor, how the Interstate area may continue to thrive, and how to make low-cost public transportation a reality in Natchitoches.

“We have been really proactive in our pursuit of state and federal dollars that will enable us to execute on projects that in the past we’ve only dreamed of,” Williams said.

The largest win came in August of 2022 with a $17.2 million infrastructure grant from DOTD to implement sidewalks and lighting on Texas Street as well as a Bike and Pedestrian Plan throughout the city. Other wins include $1.6 million for HVAC improvements to the Event Center and MLK Recreation Center, nearly $500,000 for improvements to the Keyser Avenue Lift Station and $400,000 for the rehabilitation of Richardson Park on Lake Street. 

Williams also learned on Jan. 31 that Natchitoches is one of only seven Louisiana cities to receive planning money from the Safe Streets for All grant program. This $280,000 funding opportunity will enable the City to develop a plan designed to reduce fatalities and accidents on Natchitoches streets.

Ongoing projects include $1.5 million set aside from ARPA funding to rehabilitate streets and

Drainage. Saida Street is the First Street in this list to be fully paved. Unfortunately there have been delays in this project, primarily due to weather and supply chain issues. If things go according to plan equipment will begin paving Amulet Street, Breda Avenue, Mayfield and Swanee Streets, all next week.

The hold up on Saint Claire Avenue is the assessment of an aging sewer line on that thoroughfare, but repair to the sewer line is imminent, according to Williams.               

The Texas and Pacific Depot project is one that both the city and the National Park Service are excited about. The project is progressing well. When finished there will be a meeting space for members of the community as well as documentation of the history of African Americans in the South from the Great Migration to the Civil Rights era.

Work has also started on the City’s first dog park, located at Parc Natchitoches. Williams said they’re taking a phased approach to this project. The fence and connector trail are being constructed first with pavilions, benches, and other structures to come in the near future.

Williams said he is also thrilled about the opportunity to create a swimming space for all residents. The swimming pool is currently in the design phase and will be an amazing asset to the city for many years to come. The concept will include rental space for birthday parties, a redesigned pool for youth swimming lessons, an indoor pool to allow water aerobics year-round, and a spray park.

The Safer Natchitoches initiative recently got approval from the City Council. It will allow the City to not only maintain its current menu of services, but will enable them to provide better

services to residents. 

In the Spring of 2022, the City received an administrative order from the Louisiana Department of Health with requirements regarding the City’s aging infrastructure. To provide water to residents and businesses, the City must increase the capacity of its water treatment plant. This will be a 4-5 year process.