Highlights from the Parish President’s Report of the St. Martin Parish Council Committee Meetings of August 16, 2022

Item 2 of your Public Works Committee agenda calls for the discussion regarding a resolution affirming the Parish’s monetary commitment for this project. This is necessary to protect the one-million-dollar award which we received for this project through the Louisiana Watershed Initiative. Since the Office of Community Development (“OCD”) is responsible for the disbursement of this award, the requested commitment is required under the guidelines of that agency.

The Coulee LaSalle Project was initially a $ 4 million endeavor which was budgeted to be funded by HMGP in the amount of $2 million and by $2 million from the 2016 Bond Issue. The project included the cleaning, snagging, and enhancement of the both Cypress Bayou and Coulee LaSalle beginning at Louisiana Highway 182, and extending downstream to Bayou Tortue at the Lafayette/St. Martin Parish line. Unfortunately, FEMA did not approve the expenditure of the HMGP funds because of an unfavorable BCA. However, we nonetheless received the LWI one-million-dollar award. Therefore, the project was amended to include only the clearing of the channels and the replacement of the Hughes Road Bridge. Moreover, the LWI award was great news and validates the wisdom of the overall project.

On August 8, 2022, Ms. Krystal Dabney, Recovery Analyst with the Office of Community Development, conducted a telephone conference among myself, Kasey Courville, Callen Huval, and Sellers & Associates (Nick Sonnier and Todd Vincent), the engineers for the project. At that time, we discussed the OCD’s request for the extant commitment resolution, the need for an amended budget and timeline, and the current scope of the project. It was agreed that we would confer on the second Monday of each month from now until completion of the project. We expect all final plans should be submitted by February of next year.

On August 11, 2022, I conferred with Gary O’Neal with C.H. Fenstemaker. Mr. O’Neal is serving at the Parish’s Grant Manager regarding several FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Programs of which the Parish is availing itself. One is the home elevation program for which the applications will soon commence. FEMA is expected to be issuing an official Notice of Funding Opportunity (“NOFO”) within the next several weeks. In connection therewith, Mr. O’Neal has created a GIS Product for the Parish of St. Martin. Utilizing FEMA’s list of Repetitive Loss and Severe Repetitive Loss (RL/SRL) Properties, he has plotted the location of all homes eligible for participation in elevation and acquisition grant programs through FEMA. The product will soon be live and ready for viewing.

Each Council District is color-coded, and each dot thereon represents a property within the Parish and District. By zooming in and clicking on the dot, you can access the latitude/longitude and the structure’s address. The names of the homeowners and other claim-related information is not included to protect Personally Identifiable Information (PII).

Upon my request, Mr. O’Neal will be appearing at the September regular meeting of the Council to discuss this new program and the home elevation program in general. To encourage greater participation, Mr. O’Neal has agreed to appear at the Cecilia Civic Center to explain the program and answer any questions the public may have regarding the home elevation program and the application process associated therewith. In the last few years, this informational meeting has been held at the council chambers; however, we believe a different location may encourage greater attendance and participation in the program.

I am certain that all of you will concur that the current provider is performing well beyond expectations. The only matter which has captured my attention is the failure to timely collect/empty the recycle bins. This is due in large measure to the fact that far more residents are availing themselves of the recyclable bins located at four locations throughout the parish. To address this issue, we are scheduling pick-ups more frequently and when the bins are half full. Additionally, the site of the bin at the Parks Fire Station in Grand Bois will likely have to be relocated.

One additional item relative to waste disposal matters merits our attention. Unfortunately, there are far too many residents who refuse to pay for waste disposal services or to even set up an account. As a result, many of them are simply placing their trash on the sides of the roadway or securing their waste within their own property boundaries. Also, several residents have attempted to burn their trash. The Parish’s Code of Ordinances state very clearly that:
Section 36-4: All residential households must receive and pay for waste disposal services under the terms of the Parish’s contract with its provider.
Section 36-9: No person shall dump or allow the dumping of garbage on his property, the property of another, or at any park or recreational facility.
Section 36-12: The reduction or disposal of all forms of solid waste by incineration or burning is prohibited.
Section 36-9: Prohibits littering and further sets forth an expansive definition of littering.

A violation of any of the foregoing edicts can result in a fine.

Based upon the number of complaints we are starting to receive relative to a violation of these ordinances, it is sadly going to be necessary to address the most egregious offenses by litigation. When appropriate, we will seek the issuance of citations by the proper law enforcement official. For your edification, I attach photographs of some of the cases which have warranted these comments. These pictures speak volumes and do warrant further elaboration.

Finally, the latest report from our provider reflects that out of 15,459 identified residences in the Parish, 4,369 are either inactive, lost account, or in suspended status.

The Parish’s hazardous waste day is OCTOBER 8, 2022, from 8:00 a.m. to noon. The event will be conducted at Parc Hardy in Breaux Bridge as opposed to the Public Safety Complex where we normally sponsor the project. I changed the location for two reasons. First, having the event at Parc Hardy will help us gauge whether a more centrally located area will attract more participants. Second, the current construction at the Public Safety Complex could possibly cause present obstacles relative to ingress and egress.

As customary, we will accommodate only St. Martin Parish residents. The items that will be collected include:
• Tires
• Alkaline Batteries
• Lithium Batteries
• Auto Batteries
• Electronics (computers, printers, cell phones, etc)
• Aerosol products
• Flammables
• Latex and Oil Based Paint
• Poison Liquids
• Poison Solids
• Motor Oil
• Fire Extinguishers
• Fluorescent Bulbs
• Mercury Thermometers
• Propane Tanks

A comprehensive list of items collected and those which will NOT be collected are set forth on a flyer which is currently being prepared for social media posting and public dissemination by traditional methods. It will be similar to the one used last year, and replicas will be distributed to you upon final publication.

Also, the Library Board for the Parish will again provide equipment for the shredding of documents and other paper materials.

The City of Breaux Bridge is likewise assisting the Parish in this endeavor as was the case with the last year’s hazardous collection event. Also, the Parish’s OEP are participating in the event with the Parish.

At your meeting of August 2, 2022, you extended your agenda to embrace the introduction of the subject Ordinance which provides for an exception to the side yard width requirements set forth in the Parish’s Zoning Ordinance. The matter involves the development of a 363 unit subdivision which is in both St. Martin Parish and Broussard (Lafayette Parish). The majority of the development is in our Parish. The developer seeks a reduction of the side yard width requirement from 10 feet to 5 feet.

Under the applicable building codes, there are special requirements which must be satisfied whenever a side yard width requirement is five feet so that any safety issues can be avoided. The City of Broussard’s regulations permit the five-foot side yard width. The developer advises that for several reasons time is of the essence. Many of you have expressed legitimate concerns about the wisdom of granting such an exception to the side yard width. Indeed, any exception to our general rules on such matters should be the product of close scrutiny and special circumstances which warrant such action. THEREFORE, THE DEVELOPER WILL BE PRESENT AT YOUR MEETING TO DIRECTLY ADDRESS ANY QUESTIONS CONCERNING THIS MATTER.

Sean Hundley and I will soon commence the preparation of next year’s budget. The preparation of the 2023 FY budget will be complicated, like the last two years, by considerations posed by the serious challenges associated with the lingering economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the current annual inflationary rate of over 8% poses unique issues. Furthermore, many of the capital projects in our 2022 budget have not been undertaken because of the current unexpected and marked increases in construction costs.

Of course, at your October 2022 regular meeting, I will present the proposed final 2023 FY Budget for your review and discussion with me prior to final adoption. As you are well aware, budget preparation is an arduous, time-consuming process, and I appreciate the cooperation Sean and my entire staff have always demonstrated during the various stages of this process.

In your agenda package for the upcoming meeting, you will find letters from Shelby Daigle, Jr and Jesse Doiron resigning from their respective positions on the Water & Sewer Board for the Stephensville and Belle River areas of our Parish. Mr. Daigle has served on the board for over twenty (20) years and Mr. Dorion’s service has been for over seventeen (17) years. I met with both gentlemen on August 5, 2022, at which time they submitted their resignations. Needless to say, their combined thirty-seven (37) years of dedicated and professional service will be sorely missed.
This Monday evening, August 15, 2022, I will be attending a meeting of the Board in Stephensville to discuss several items which will undoubtedly include these resignations and possible replacements. As you are aware, by law the Parish Council appoints members to this Board although it is an independent juridical entity and functions separate and apart from Parish Government. Mr. Dorion’s term ends on July 2, 2023 and Mr. Daigle’s term expires on July 2, 2024.

At the last Committee Meetings, Chris Disher with Cajun Broadband appeared and discussed with you the progress that has been made relative to the installation of fiber pursuant to the Cooperative Endeavor Agreement which we executed with his company on March 22, 2022. As background information and a prelude to Mr. Dasher’s presentation, I submitted these remarks from my prior reports on this item:

“Notwithstanding the foregoing, there have been significant developments, all positive, in the recent weeks. First, I have crystallized negotiations with several companies for broadband services. Final decisions/agreements are dependent upon awards for funding through the Louisiana Office of Broadband Development & Connectivity. Several millions of dollars are available for broadband expansion in unserved and underserved rural areas through what is known as the GUMBO program created by state legislation adopted last Summer. Applications were due December 31, 2021. The projects embraced by my plan and “in-principle” agreements were part of the applications submitted by the providers with whom I have dealt. Indeed, our commitments are significant factors included in the grading process for the GUMBO awards.
The three providers submitting applications are Cajun Broadband for services which embrace the Cade Community to St. Martinville, Allen Communications for services in lower St. Martin and upper St. Martin from Division Road in Arnaudville extending down La. 31 to near Declouet Highway and down La. 686 to near Cecilia High School Road, and LUSFiber for coverages down La. Highway 94 and the Cecilia Community. These three endeavors will provide services to over 7,000 residences, and in excess of 500 commercial facilities. They entail approximately 150 miles of fiber. I will be happy to meet with any of you at any time to examine the particular areas embraced by the applications. Please note that this is simply the first step. Once the GUMBO awards are announced, I will prepare a detailed report for each of you.
The second development which has occurred recently is that Treasury rendered a final rule on January 6, 2022, which allows local parishes to utilize the ARPA funds for general revenue purposes up the ten million dollars. While this will not affect the current plans, it will allow the money to be used without moving funds around as we were forced to do in order to comply with the prior ‘interim final rules.’
Finally, it must be noted that TO DATE we have received only the first portion of ARPA funds. The allotment to which St. Martin Parish is entitled under ARPA is 10.3 million dollars, payable in two equal tranches. The second allotment will be released in March, 2022. At that time, I will feel more comfortable with the implementation of our plans since I do not want to finalize anything until the ‘money is in the bank.’
Cajun Broadband has elected to proceed with the installation of fiber in a significant portion of the southwestern portion of the Parish irrespective of its GUMBO application. The company proposes to install 73,000 feet of fiber to the home that will embrace over 700 households and 75 businesses.
Using budgeted ARPA proceeds, the Parish will contribute $1.5 million dollars toward the infrastructure costs. Moreover, the minimum speeds of the services to be provided will be 100 mbps/100 mbps, scalable to 1000/1000. The rate structure will be identical to its current rates which are market compatible.
Additional requirements must be met by CAJUN. First, this project is merely Phase 1 of Cajun’s overall broadband plan for the Parish. The company will continue to pursue its current GUMBO application for Phase 2 which will consist of the installation of an additional 74,000 feet of fiber to service over 700 households and in our Parish. If the GUMBO application is not successful, Cajun will apply for Round 2 funding via GUMBO at which time another $100 million will be available in grant money. The Parish has agreed to provide an additional $300,000 match for this project phase which will cost in excess of $2 million dollars. All of St. Martin Parish facilities in both project areas will be provided free services as well as all schools. Moreover, Cajun’s rate structure must be at least the average of all providers offering compatible services in the Parish.
…, I am scheduled to confer with representatives of Cajun and the law firm which I have retained to assist/advise the Parish relative to this matter. Our specific focus will be completing the Cooperative Endeavor Agreement …
To my knowledge, this will be first CEA relative to Broadband services embraced by either ARPA or GUMBO funding in this region, if not the entire state. Finally, I note that the APC has reviewed my overall plans and has opined that our approach is cogent. Finally, our monetary commitment is in the FY 2022 budget which has been adopted.”

As noted during Mr. Disher’s report last month, the installation of the fiber pursuant to the CEA continues to proceed at a fast pace with households being expected to be subject to broadband services by the end of September.

Moreover, since his appearance, Round 1 of the GUMBO funding has been announced. Cajun was awarded 1.5 million dollars for fiber to be provided in the areas along Duchamp Road and Lady of the Lake Road. Meanwhile, Allen’s TV Cable Service was awarded 1.376 million dollars for the area from Huron to Scott Street to the point where Cox cable commences. The area embraces 33.9 miles; however, 137 locations were excluded from the GUMBO award because they were in an area serviced by DSL. Our commitment to the companies, using our ARPA funds, was $300,000 to Cajun Broadband and $600,000 to Allen’s. The commitment to Allen’s will be reduced proportionally because of the 137 excluded locations.

The GUMBO council surprisingly opened a Round 1-A application period for a short window of time which has now expired. The primary reason was the issue with excluding DSL locations. Cajun Broadband applied for Round 1-A funding for broadband in the area from the Parish line on La. Highway 94 proceeding to Four Corners in Breaux Bridge, and then proceeding along La. Highway 31 to Poche Bridge at which point the area will go down Declouet Highway to its intersection with La. Highway 31. For this application, I committed $400,000. A second Round 1-A application of Cajun includes proceeding from where the above mention area ends and proceeding to the Portage area near Arnaudville. I committed $290,000 for this application.
Meanwhile, Allen’s Round 1-A application seeks to include the 137 locations which were excluded from Round 1. Of course, the Parish’s commitment was the inclusion of the proportionate amount by which the Round 1 commitment was reduced.

Of course, the entirety of the Parish commitments are within the budget set for use of the ARPA funds.

I am optimistic about the direction we seem to be heading in our efforts to introduce high speed internet services to our rural communities. I truly believe that our March 22, 2022 CEA with Cajun Broadband sent a strong message that we are committed to providing broadband services in St. Martin Parish; hence, enhancing the GUMBO scoring for the Parish and its providers who have partnered with us. I will keep you posted on developments in this matter especially as regards Round 1-A awards.

I commented on the issues associated with Solar Farms in July 2021 and remind you of these observations:

“When I discussed various informational items at your July regular meeting, I mentioned that the Parish should begin considering whether regulatory dictates associated with solar farm developments should be considered. Solar farms are being constructed in several areas of the State of Louisiana, particularly in rural communities. Indeed, many communities/parishes have issued moratoria on such developments to afford them ample time to accumulate reliable data concerns the pros and cons of these types of developments.
There have been recent print media discussion on solar farms in several publications including the Acadiana Advocate. Considerations associated with these developments include, but certainly are not limited to, environmental impacts of the developments in general, type of materials used in the manufacture of the panels, the need for buffer zones, the maximum and minimum sizes of the farms, and their impact on property values. Another concern is the potential negative effect on the agricultural industry.…
I am concerned about any federal preemption which may render any potential local governmental regulations impotent, a situation experienced several years ago with the advent of cellular towers and subsidized housing developments. I will keep you appraised of the fruits of this research.”

There have numerous developments in the industry on this matter including state and federal legislation. Moreover, on July 29, 2022, I toured the UL Solar Test Lab located on Eraste Landry Road in Lafayette. Our tour guide was Dr. Terrance Chambers who is also a member of a task force which was created by the Governor in 2020 to study, among other matters, solar power. This is an evolving industry which certainly warrants our continued attention. Numerous concerns and issues are implicated by the advent of solar developments. At some point in the near future, I will invite Dr. Chambers to appear before the council to speak on this subject. It should be noted that Dr. Chamber is a full-time engineering professor with UL.

Recently, Council member Dean Leblanc spoke to me regarding numerous issues with our current zoning ordinances. One of his concerns addressed variances which he felt were perhaps too frequently arbitrarily granted. He astutely suggested that funds be appropriated for the development of an updated zoning manual. I fully concur and embrace his recommendation. Thus, I will be focusing on that task during the upcoming budget preparations. Moreover, I have solicited assistance from the Acadiana Planning Commission which can aid in locating the proper personnel to assist in a comprehensive review and revision of our zoning regulations. However, we must understand at the outset that this task requires both PLANNING and zoning. Thus, the endeavor will be a process, but certainly not one that cannot successfully be negotiated.

The latest monthly tax reports reflect a mixture of “good news and bad news as the following summary reflects:
A. Net Collections for Sales Tax District #1:

January-July 2022 Net Collections $2,263,034.58
January-July 2021 Net Collections $2,149,112.64
January-July 2020 Net Collections $1,698,668.69
Average 2022 Monthly Net Collections $323,290.65
Average 2021 7-Month Net Collections $307,016.09
Average 2020 7-Month Net Collections $242,666.95

B. Collections for Sales Tax District #2:
January-July 2022 Net Collections $911,094.58
January-July 2021 Net Collections $738,419.00
January-July 2020 Net Collections $653,457.60
Average 2022 Monthly Net Collections $130,156.37
Average 2021 7-Month Net Collections $105,488.43
Average 2020 7-Month Net Collections $93,351.08

The foregoing reflects that the net amounts collected in January-July 2022 in both districts exceed the average monthly net collections in both 2021 and 2020 for the seven-month time period of January-July. As regards Sales Tax District No. 1, the January-July 2022 AVERAGE monthly collections are $16,274.56 GREATER than the monthly average collected in January-July 2021. In Sales Tax District #2, the January-July 2022 average monthly collections were $24,667.94 GREATER than the average of the collections for January-July 2021.

On the other hand, the disappointing news is that the net collections for District No. 1 in July 2022 were $294,031.94 which is LESS than the $390,518.61 collected in 2021 and the $303,398.31 received in 2020. In District No. 2 the July 2022 net collections were $122,175.12 contrasted to July net collections of $93,706.37 and $135,631.62 in 2020 and 2021 respectively. The reduction from 2021 in net collections for District No. 1 was 24.70% and 9.92% for District No. 2. Hopefully, these reductions from last year’s totals will not be a trend; nonetheless, the negative directions clearly merit our close scrutiny.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, I have examined and compared the average of the first seven months of collections for 2022 with the average monthly collections for the entire 12 months in 2021 and 2020. This comparative analysis reflects for Sales Tax District #1:
2022 Average 7-month Collections $323,290.65
2021 Average 12-month Collections $309,495.52
2020 Average 12-month Collections $252,006.17

As regards, Sales Tax District #2, the comparison is:
2022 Average 6-month Collections $131,486.57
2021 Average 12-month Collections $112,363.68
2020 Average 12-month Collections $95,507.00

Also, as I noted in last month’s report, the second half of the year generally reflects greater collections than the first half although the amounts do not appear to be significant.

The hotel/motel tax collections for January-July 2022 were $172,883.44 compared to 2021 collections of $137,519.15 during those seven months. The January-July collections were $35,364.29 greater that the first seven months in 2021. Noteworthy is that the average monthly collections for all of 2021 were $26,404.7 while the average collection thus far this year is $24,697.63. The upcoming fall season hopefully will result in an increase in our hotel/motel tax collections in view of the fall festivals in our area. Also, we are now experiencing a decrease in fuel costs which hopefully will encourage increase collections.

In my last report, I advised that:

“While speaking on the hotel/motel tax collections, I have engaged in candid discourse with our Director of Tourism and the SMEDA Executive Director. They are legitimately concerned that there are several “short term” rental facilities which are not collecting and/or remitting any hotel/motel taxes. Ms. Laperouse first mentioned this issue to me late last year and our efforts to secure answers produced no fruition. Hence, we have again conferred and will be meeting with the proper tax collecting agent for the Parish to pursue this issue.”

Unfortunately, I have nothing new to report in our endeavors; however, if anything develops, I will advise you accordingly.
We have received no Video Poker revenue for July 2022 which is not unusual in view of the state fiscal year.