St. Martin Parish President Chester R. Cedars
April 16, 2020
6:45 P.M.

 

NEW FORMAT

I again remind you of the new page on the Parish website for COVID-19 information and updates (www.stmartinparish.net/coronavirus).

FUTURE REPORTS

As I previously advised, these public reports on a periodic basis as opposed to daily submissions. Of course, in the face of an important development on any issue of any nature, I will most assuredly advise the public accordingly.

POSITIVE CASES FOR APRIL 16, 2020

The report from LDH for this date reflects that the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the State is 22,532 with 1,156 deaths. This represents, over a three-day period, a statewide increase of 1,516 positive tests and an increase of 272 deaths. The number of reported positive tests in surrounding areas continues to rise but certainly at a reduced rate. The following is the count for our region:

  • Lafayette Parish: 387 cases, 16 deaths
  • Calcasieu Parish: 300 cases, 15 deaths
  • St. Martin Parish: 179 cases, 10 deaths
  • Iberia Parish: 164 cases, 6 deaths
  • St. Mary Parish: 134 cases, 8 deaths
  • St. Landry Parish: 118 cases, 17 deaths
  • Acadia Parish: 108 cases, 6 deaths
  • Jeff Davis Parish: 48 cases, 5 deaths
  • Evangeline Parish: 41 cases
  • Vermilion Parish: 28 cases, 1 death

The total reported positive tests in the above Parishes is 1,507 which is an increase of 122 cases since Monday (3 days). The total deaths are 84 which is an increase of 20. For the benefit of Stephensville and Belle River, Assumption Parish (adjacent to Belle River) has 132 positive tests and 1 reported death, an increase of 12 positive tests and no increase in deaths.

Dr. Tina Stefanski opined this morning in a telephone conference that our numbers in the area are “trending down slightly” but we are by no means where we would like to be. Indeed, she noted that hospital admissions for COVID-19 in our area exceed the rate of discharges.

TESTING SITES

A detailed listing of testing sites in our area is attached.

PARISH COUNCIL MEETING

This evening the St. Martin Parish Council held a regular meeting and addressed several items which we felt should not be delayed. At the end of the meeting, I presented a succinct report of Parish Government some of which I will herein highlight.

The public works department has been working its normal schedule without any interruption in its normal assignments. Similarly, the personnel at our water plant have been working normal shifts. I note also that our health units have been operating according to LDH guidelines, and there has been little or no disruption in discharging its daily duties. Moreover, we have been accepting and processing all building permit applications albeit remotely via electronic transmittal. However, all required inspections have been transpiring.

Beginning on March 31, 2020, our administrative and support staff have been working remotely when possible. Only a limited number of personnel are allowed to go in the administrative offices, and then under a schedule coordinated with Calder Hebert, our Director of Administration. Section 8 chores are operating along normal lines except applications are reviewed remotely. The staff in the finance department is working remotely except that several times a week several hours are spent actually processing checks and reviewing invoices for my approval. Finally, our major projects have continued to be addressed. Indeed, we have had one remote bid opening (home elevation program) and we have received and graded RFP’s for mosquito control services. Finally, we have initiated advertising for bids on two of our Restore Act Projects, Catahoula Lake and Uncle Dick Davis Park floating piers. Construction remains ongoing at all of our sites including Cade, Catahoula, and Paul Angelle Park where during the last week we completed the parking lot at the Cecilia Civic Center. As regards the Center, in the last two weeks almost of the fixtures, appliances, and furniture have been delivered. The handling of routine calls is remote with staff members rotating that duty. The Clerk and Deputy Clerk are in the rotation with the Deputy Clerk/PIO being available 24/7 for reports.

We have kept our entire staff/employees active although some have not been able to discharge their full array of duties daily. Nonetheless, we should not be “behind” on any significant matters affecting Parish Government once this crisis abates. Furthermore, at this time, there appears to be no reason for any employment to be in jeopardy.

I also note that I teleconference routinely with our Directors, and, practicing social distancing, periodically personally confer with them. Candidly, I believe that, by and large, the employment plan we crafted has proven to be successful, fair, reasonable, and without compromise to any principles of the Stay at Home Order of the Governor.

Audio of the meeting can be found below or here.

PARISH BUDGET ISSUES

Make no mistake about it – this crisis will impact the Parish’s budget. However, it is far too early for an accurate and firm evaluation. Preliminary analysis reflects that the Parish will lose significant revenue associated with our road maintenance funds which have, as their source of revenue, money from the video poker fund and Sales Tax District #1. Our obligation to supplement the criminal court fund (which is integral to the judicial system) will similarly be significantly impacted. I anticipate significant reduction in our severance tax revenue and building permit fees. Intertwined is the loss of revenue related to the severe downturn in the oil and gas industry which has been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both our Director of Finance and I are looking at the present and 2021 especially in regard our millage assessments. Hopefully, we will have a better, more accurate picture in the coming months.

In view of the foregoing, I have suspended all budgeted items for major expenditures including the acquisition of equipment such as tractors and our road improvement project which we were in the processing of developing. How we adjust for these items will be dependent upon our budget analysis in the coming weeks. Consequently, in the meantime, we will focus upon our ordinary infrastructure maintenance which I do not anticipate will be curtailed.

FEDERAL STIMULUS PACKAGES

As all of you know, there have been several federal legislative packages enacted to “stimulate the economy” and provide assistance to those impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. These include:

  • Public Health Assistance legislation to provide support for federal and state healthcare needs to combat the pandemic;
  • The Families First Coronavirus Response Act which has two components: The Expanded Emergency Family Medical Leave Act; and, the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act;
  • The CARES Act which is a $2.2 trillion package that has several components:
  • Federal Unemployment Compensation which supplements unemployment payment at the rate of $600 weekly;
  • The Paycheck Protection Program which provides low interest loans to businesses up to 2.5 times their monthly payroll. A feature thereof is the forgiveness of the loan if the proceeds are used to retain or re-hire employees;
  • Small Business Pay-Roll Tax Deferment plan permitting employers to defer the payment of pay roll taxes until 2021 and 2022; and,
  • Recovery Rebate Payment program where everyone who qualifies will receive a $1,200 check for the government-these were mailed this week in many cases.

I invite, AND ENCOURAGE, our business partners to visit the website designed and managed by Jennifer Stelly, the Executive Director of the St. Martin Parish Economic Development Authority: www.shopstmartinparish.com/covid-19-resources

This site has a wealth of information about the many business opportunities afforded our local businesses as a result of the aforementioned legislation, including the CARES Act.

Another aspect of the CARES Act calls for the distribution of $150 billion to state and local governments based upon a formula closely akin to that used for the CDBG program. ONLY LOCAL GOVERNMENTAL UNITS WITH A POPULATION OF 500,000 OR MORE ARE ELIGIBLE FOR DIRECT PAYMENTS. Therefore, Louisiana’s share of these proceeds will be payable directly to the State since we have no local governmental unit which has a 500,000 population. It is my understanding that the state will distribute 45% of the amount it receives ($1.8 Billion) to local government. However, although it is not clear at this point, it appears that the money must be used for expenditures incurred due to dealing with COVID-19 and should be earmarked for public health, public housing, and similar mattes. THE BOTTOM LINE IS THAT THE PROCEEDS ARE NOT AVAILABLE TO SUPPLEMENT BUDGET SHORTFALLS CAUSED BY COVID-19. Also, the State has not declared what criteria it will utilize in “sharing” with local government the $1.8 billion it receives.

I have been advised that Congress is currently considering additional legislation designed to offer assistance to the States and local government. Consequently, I have transmitted correspondence to our Congressional delegation making it clear that participation in any program should not be dependent on population which is unfair to rural communities. Moreover, I advocate allowing local government to utilize the proceeds according to its discretionary needs so long as it can be demonstrated that those needs are DIRECTLY related to COVID-19. For your edification, the following is the format of the letter sent to our delegation:

April 15, 2020

Senator John Kennedy
B11 Russell Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

RE: Direct Aid to Parish Government

Dear Senator Kennedy:

On behalf of St. Martin Parish Government, the undersigned submits this transmittal to urge you to staunchly endorse federal legislation that will provide direct financial aid to local governmental units for revenue deficits associated with the COVID-19 crisis. This entreaty draws no distinction based upon the population of the local governing entity. While I address only parish governing authorities in this correspondence, many issues espoused herein apply with equal force to municipalities.

To fully comprehend the plight of parish governing authorities under the current financial climate, it is prudent, as a seminal matter, to recognize the vast array of financial responsibilities imposed upon Louisiana parishes by law. Thus, I present the following for your edification, noting that locally generated revenue is the primary, and often sole, source of funding for parishes.

It is an understandable misconception that Parishes only address infrastructure needs such as roads, bridges, and drainage structures. Those obligations are indeed the most visible work a Parish undertakes; however, as will be hereinafter demonstrated, it is by no means the only areas of a Parish’s responsibilities.

Louisiana law imposes on parish governments the obligation to provide secure facilities for district attorneys, judges, clerks of court, tax assessors, registrar of voters, and sheriffs. These mandates embrace both the physical offices/buildings of those officials and the supplement of the operating budgets of their separately established constitutional offices.

Similarly, the maintenance of parish jails is the obligation of parish governments. Moreover, the Parish must provide for the food, clothing, medical and dental, and mental health services for all inmates in a parish jail, pretrial detainees and otherwise.

The criminal justice system in most, if not all, local jurisdictions no longer generates from fines, forfeitures, and related penalties sufficient revenue to adequately fund the operating expenses of district attorney offices, judges, law clerks, court reporters, and other necessary components thereof. By state statutory, unfunded mandates, Parish governing authorities are required to provide for all such operating expenses. In this same vein, the current COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a mass reduction of services which the Indigent Defender Boards can provide, thus creating backlogs in incarceration and criminal dockets. Consequently, additional financial burdens associated therewith are transferred to parish governing authorities.

The expenses of the parish coroner’s office is likewise a financial charge imposed upon Parishes. As such, the increase in mental health issues, drug abuse requiring commitments, and an abnormal workload associated with COVID-19 public health matters has placed undue, unforeseen, and unbudgeted burdens upon Parish Governments.

Moreover, as referenced previously, the local critical infrastructure obligations of parish governing entities remain at a peak and include roads, bridges, and drainage. The maintenance and projects regarding same have always, and still remain, the sole responsibility of local government.

Furthermore, paramount services which Parishes routinely undertake to preserve public health and safety are at an all-time peak and include, but are not limited to, fire protection services, mosquito control, animal control, recreational facilities, and water services. Many of those duties are discharged by parishes via taxes associated with the operation of health units.

Also, Parishes such as St. Martin participate in a Section 8 housing program which is, as you are aware, especially important today in view of massive layoffs and related economically dire circumstances. The administrative costs associated therewith are addressed and satisfied from general fund transfers.

No commentary is necessary to highlight the significant impact of COVID-19 upon the local revenue stream which is the lifeblood for funding all of the foregoing. Without immediate and aggressive measures, Parish Government will be compelled to eliminate vital services which are necessary for the health, safety, and protection of our local communities.

It is salient to note that the CARES Act, as it is currently drafted, provides no relief directly to any unit of local government in the State of Louisiana. As you are aware, the pertinent provisions of that legislation allows funding to local governmental entities with a population in excess of 500,000, and then only for limited purposes. There is no Parish or municipality in this state with the requisite population.

In light of all of the foregoing, you are respectfully requested to support any and all legislation which will provide direct financial aid to local government without regard to population, all relative to the mitigation of prospective budgetary shortfalls which result as consequence of the COVID-19 crisis.

With kindest regards, I remain
Sincerely yours,

Chester R. Cedars
Parish President

Let me be clear — St. Martin Parish Government will not DEPEND on the federal government to solve all of our budget concerns. This DOES NOT mean that we will not seek ASSISTANCE; rather, we will structure our budget and expenditures without factoring the potential of any outside assistance. If we receive any sort of assistance, then we will treat it as icing on the cake. In my view, it is imprudent for Government to depend or rely upon uncertain one-time funding to address its recurring needs. Indeed, the first in line for assistance SHOULD BE OUR BUSINESS COMMUNITIES AND THEIR EMPLOYEES.

2020 CENSUS

You are reminded of the importance of completing the 2020 census. Indeed, a crisis such as the current one highlights the import of accurate census data which is a determinant for funding for schools, hospitals, nutrition, and health programs. Moreover, our representation in Congress is dependent upon an accurate census count. I understand that our response rate remains below that of the rest of the nation. Thus, please complete the census forms. Information regarding the census can be found at www.2020census.gov.