Natchitoches Parish Government: A Summary of 2022

In accordance with the requirements of Article IlI, Section 3-10.3. of Natchitoches Home Rule Charter, Parish President John Richmond submitted the following 2022 Summary to the Parish Council at its March 20 meeting. Its purpose is to provide a summary report of major administrative activities for the year 2022, and a forward-looking statement for the year 2023.

2022 was a year with many challenges, and opportunities for the good people of Natchitoches Parish. The COVID19 pandemic that dominated 2021 lessened greatly, and the threats of infection also diminished as reported cases declined. Through it all the good people of Natchitoches Parish continued to work hard, stay safe, care for friends, neighbors, and visitors, and pray for wisdom in a world that is very different.

That “very different” world for the Natchitoches Parish Government and all it’s citizens meant higher prices (caused by both inflation and supply chain issues) at every turn. We have all had to deal with rapidly rising costs in every aspect of life. From skyrocketing housing, utility and food costs to greatly increased costs (and delivery lead times) for durable goods and equipment. And like our citizens, the Natchitoches Parish Government has continued to live within our means; incurring no long term debt; always looking for ways to “stretch” our funding further through partnerships at the local, State, and Federal levels; and working every day to stabilize costs in toda’s unstable economy.

While I am sure we can all agree there is a great deal of work to do; changes to be made; and work to accomplish in our parish; let’s take a moment to look at a few of the things that defined our collective character this vear:

Actions taken to improve Parish Roads:

Since taking office in 2020 I have continued to investigate all avenues for additional funding to improve our parish road system. During this effort in 2022 it was discovered that for nearly the last 20 years a portion of Parish Government Sales tax has gone uncollected. This matter is being corrected by our Natchitoches Tax Commission and will begin being collected in April. As we look forward to this increased revenue, our plan for these additional funds (and any other additional recurring infrastructure funds the voters of Natchitoches Parish may vote in favor of) will be used to improve our road, bridge, and drainage infrastructure. A summary of this plan is shown below:

Road, Bridge, and Drainage Improvement Plan: 

Despite the greatly increased costs of road aggregate material and equipment, we remain committed to work towards a better maintained road system. And while it is disappointing that the currently available funds for our roads has not increased significantly in decades, we choose to not be defeated. Instead, we look at each day as a challenge to find new ways to be more efficient and partner with other entities like the Cane River Waterway Commission to better our roads.

As we have discussed before, the bettering of our roads is a marathon, not a sprint.

With approximately 450 miles of asphalt parish roads (nearly all beyond their useful life), and nearly as many miles of greatly neglected gravel/dirt roads (due to lack of available funding over the years), it is obvious to all parties that system wide improvement will take a great deal of time and funding. In 2022 alone more than 24,000 TONS of road base materials were placed on our Parish Roads to improve them and help keep them passable!

Long-term plan for road maintenance & improvement: 

Our first priority will always be to do what is possible to keep our parish roads passable for all vehicles who properly use them. Therefore, we are instituting a more robust permitting system for heavy haul commercial vehicles that details the “who/when/where/ and how long” for all heavy haul routes and projects. The goal of this new permitting system is to work more closely with residents and business ventures that use our fragile parish roads to ensure avoidance of road damage where possible and improve response time for road repairs.

Secondly, we plan to increase efforts to improve drainage of our roadways. Our goal is to not just “clear ditches”, but to work to improve all aspects of road drainage: Raising road elevations where possible with nearby materials from drainage backslopes, and working with utility systems to relocate their systems that inhibit good drainage. This project will be a long term and part of the “marathon” mentality mentioned earlier.

Our next priority will be to continue to leverage additional one-time funds (via partnerships, grants, and the above-mentioned additional funding) for the rehabilitation of high traffic and increased population roads that connect at both ends to State highways. You have seen some of these projects already at Fish Hatchery Road and Bermuda Road, thanks to a partnering agreement with the Cane River Waterway Commission. In 2023 you will see more of these projects at Harmony Road and Hart Road as we use Federal Grant money for these projects.

Natchitoches Parish’s response to Aging Water Systems:

As our parish was continuing the long-term recovery from Hurricane Laura, January 2021 brought “back to back” winter storms that devastated our water systems parish wide. With frozen/broken lines draining our water systems, forcing boil advisories, and endangering the health and well being of our parish residents, your parish government set out to find a solution to help restore and improve our water systems. By partnering with rural water systems, and State government, we were able to bridge the funding gap of our rural water systems to secure grant funding for the improvement of 7 of our rural water systems. These systems serve more than 20% of our rural population in approximately 40% of our parish land areas. These improvements will result in better water quality, less service interruptions, and improved access to these water systems. All of this will be accomplished in the coming months with NO REQUIRED INCREASE IN PARISH TAXES!

In 2022 these proactive water system projects began! Projects are underway across our parish with some already nearing completion; like the Sandy Point Water System that now enjoys safe, clean, reliable drinking water thanks to new equipment and the drilling of new groundwater wells! It has been exciting to watch these projects take shape and move forward with much needed improvements. These efforts will not only improve the quality of life for current residents, but also make the rural parts of our parish more accessible to those desiring to relocate to these areas.

Solid Waste Bin Sites:

2022 saw the addition of new bin sites, relocation of other sites to more accessible locations, and we are now nearing completion on the change over from open/unsecure sites to fenced/controlled sites. I am proud of the improved safety and cleanliness of our controlled sites. Our landfill continues to operate efficiently and in compliance with all local, State, and Federal guidelines.

Other 2022 Items:

Grant Funding:

In a continued effort to search for, find, and secure additional funding for projects and services that will help our residents, and position Natchitoches Parish for growth, the Natchitoches Parish Government was successful in the receipt of $7,610,200 in grant funding in 2022.

Grant funding sources for 2022 included:

  • ARPA: (Road rehabilitation, Rural Water Systems, Drainage)      $3,705,872
  • LGAP: (Road Maintenance Equipment)                                        $78,000
  • CWEF: (Sandy Point 480 Water System)                                      $300,000
                 (Chestnut/Reidhimer Water System)                                $300,000
  • Local Assistance and Trible Consistency Funding                       $564,856
  • CRWC: (Fish Hatchery Road and Bermuda Road)                      $1,848,307
  • Senior Companion Program                                                         $220,148
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program                         $108,740
  • Community Cares Block Grant                                                   $211,960
  • CSBG Cares Funding                                                                  $272,317

As promised, our budgets continue to be transparent. Every expenditure is scrutinized, and cost management is done daily. Cost savings are achieved, any waste is removed, and budgeted funds are kept in check.

Forward-Looking Projects:

The East Natchitoches Drainage project engineering is complete, reviewed and approved! Acquisition of Right of Ways is now in progress. This project will be funded entirely with grant funding provided by the Louisiana Watershed Initiative.

Most importantly, it will mitigate flooding risk to East Natchitoches, and relieve runoff problems for parts of the Natchitoches Parish south of the City of Natchitoches.

  • Federal funding is still anticipated to assist in the installation of Rural Broadband Internet service. This funding was expected in 2021, but now is hopeful for 2023. We have continued to work closely with Federal, State, and other local entities to begin the installation of new high-speed internet throughout Natchitoches Parish.
  • In my 2021 end of year summary I stated,

“I am committed to working to continue to break down the ‘silos’ of the many stake holding entities of the Parish. We are many groups, cultures, and locales; but we are ‘One Natchitoches Parish.’ It is imperative that we work together as an entire parish to know the division of ‘city vs. rural’ only serves to weaken our appeal, and our future. With a near 50/50 split in population between the City of Natchitoches and the rural parts of Natchitoches Parish it is time to understand both City and Rural are better when they work together for infrastructure improvement, job growth, education, and health care. These cornerstones of a strong community depend on the strength of ‘unity with independence.’ I encourage all Natchitoches Parish residents to speak often with their village, town, city, parish, state, and federal representatives to demand unity. Together we are much stronger than any small group who stands alone.”

I am happy to report that in 2022 we made great progress in moving forward as an entire parish! We are nearly complete with a CITY & PARISH comprehensive plan than will help us focus jointly across the ENTIRE PARISH on issues like:

  • Improved increased housing
  • Improved transportation and Infrastructure
  • Coordinated (not fragmented) Economic Development
  • Coordinated efforts regarding Job Growth and Workforce Development
  • And much more!

I am excited to see the progress we will make together in the coming years, and thankful for those who lead and participated in this effort. These efforts have already resulted in several meetings with businesses looking at Natchitoches Parish for possible relocation.

Your parish government will continue to work with the public and private sector on economic development projects to bring more employment to our parish. Natchitoches is a great place to live AND DO BUSINESS! With a great port, rail access, certified sites for industry, the resources of NSU and BCC, and a parish of hard working, qualified people, new industries and developers are looking at Natchitoches Parish as a possible place for their business and residential developments. Together we can bring these jobs, businesses, and homes to our communities.

Together, we WILL make tomorrow better than today,

John Richmond, Parish President