Highlights from the Parish President’s Report of the St. Martin Parish Council Committee Meetings of August 17, 2021
2011 LLGEF BOND REFINANCING/FAVORABLE BOND RATING
In 2011 the Parish issued and sold 20-year General Obligation Bonds in the amount of $7.345 million. The current balance on that debt is approximately $4 million with 10 years left on the bond obligation. The payment due for 2021 is $527,316.00 and will be paid from video poker revenue as have the prior payments.
Upon recommendation of our bonding counsel, the Council approved on May 4, 2021, the re-financing of this obligation in view of the current favorable bond market. The net saving, after all bonding/agent fees and expenses, will be $40,000 annually or $400,000.
In connection with the re-financing, on July 27, 2021, Sean Hundley and I were interviewed by rating analysts from S & P Global Ratings relative to a myriad of matters associated with the affairs of Parish Government, ranging from our budget items to the way we address major storms, both before and after a weather event. The interview lasted over one and one-half hours. The purpose of the discourse was to determine what bond rating should be assigned to the Parish. Of course, prior to the meeting, S&P had reviewed our budget and our most recent audits. S & P sets bond ratings for governmental entities.
On August 10, 2021, Mr. Hundley and I received notification that S & P assigned its “AA-Stable” rating to the bond issuance. The concluding remarks in the S & P final report noted that as regards St. Martin Parish, “The [St. Martin Parish’s] institutional framework score for Louisiana parishes is very strong.” This rating validates the successful work of the Council.
I would be remiss if I did not recognize Sean Hundley for the professional, effective job he does as Director of Finance.
HEALTH UNIT PERSONNEL CHANGES
It is with great disappointment that I advise you of the resignation of Stacy Savoy, the director of our Health Units. Ms. Savoy, a nurse practitioner, met with me recently and advised that she wanted to devote all her time to the private practice of her trade/training as a nurse practitioner. The administrative duties and necessarily medically narrow services offered by our health unit did not afford her this opportunity. Stacy has been employed by the Parish since 2008. She will be sorely missed, and I personally appreciate the guidance she has afforded me since I assumed office, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As you are aware, I previously decided to implement several measures designed to consolidate the services of our health unit programs. In this connection, I refer you to my remarks from my report of January 21, 2021:
Additionally, I have closely studied our health units and determined that we are over-staffed. Thus, one LPN position was eliminated. Also, there does not appear to be a cogent reason to continue to have a health unit in both Breaux Bridge and Cecilia. Currently, both are not open at the same time. Furthermore, there is a community clinic at St. Martin Hospital which will soon feature a pediatric nurse practitioner. Thus, I am developing a plan whereby we will close one of the facilities in the next several months which I am convinced will save costs without compromise to services.
These plans are still being developed. Hence, with the resignation of Stacy, I have decided that there is no need to replace her. Her administrative duties will be assumed by Tiffany Buillard, an RN who has been with the Parish’s health unit system since 2008. Ms. Buillard is imminently qualified to render the medical services offered by our health unit inclusive of inoculations. Moreover, our medical director for the Health Unit program, Dr. Warren Degatur, is available to review and when necessary to monitor health unit protocols.
RURAL WELLNESS CENTER IN CECILIA/ARNAUDVILLE AREA
The foregoing subject serves as a segue for portions of my April 21, 2021, report wherein I announced that:
The previous technology building next to Paul Angelle Park in Cecilia has been vacant for several years and provides no service currently for anyone. Moreover, you will recall that in 2017, Hospital District No. 1 was abolished and pursuant to an Intergovernmental Agreement with St. Landry Parish, the assets were divided. Last year, I completed the necessary transactions which resulted in the Parish receiving the bulk of the accumulated cash, approximately $800,000. These proceeds were the product of ad valorem taxes paid by the residents in northern St. Martin Parish and a portion of St. Landry Parish, the area embraced by the jurisdictional boundaries of the former HSD #1. The taxes were imposed and paid for the express purpose of health care.
Although, the current proceeds can be used for general purposes, I concluded that it would be improper not to research whether there was the potential to use the money for healthcare pursuits within the jurisdictional boundaries of the former HSD#1. In early 2020, I began to explore potential healthcare uses in region, but my efforts were thwarted by the COVID-19 Pandemic. I have now re-instituted an evaluation of my plans which are set forth below.
First, it cannot be argued that there is a need for healthcare services in the northern region of the Parish. Second, there is the former technology center, now vacant, situated next to Paul Angelle Park in the heart of the St. Martin Parish portion of the former HSD #1 district. Third, there are proceeds which can be utilized to renovate the building so as to accommodate healthcare pursuits. Therefore, I met with representatives of Ochsner Lafayette General relative to the conversion of that facility into a wellness/community care facility and the confection of an accord whereby they would lease and operate it, reserving the right to use a part of the facility to operate our health unit. Ochsner Lafayette General has embraced the concept, and jointly, we have commenced studying the cost of renovation and defining the parameters of a prospective agreement. We are proceeding in much the same manner as with Ochsner St. Martin Hospital. I am excited and optimistic about the prospect of this plan becoming a reality.
Moreover, this idea blends very well with my plans of consolidating the Breaux Bridge Health Unit and Cecilia Health Unit, with the product being one facility situated in Cecilia. Of course, I will keep you updated as we proceed with this endeavor.
Last week, I received preliminary estimates for the cost to renovate the former technology center to accommodate medical clinicians and to house a behavioral health unit. The operation and management of the center will be by Oschner Lafayette General Medical Center who will pay a monthly lease/management fee to the Parish. I also note that the facility as envisioned embraces wellness capabilities as well. I have follow-up meetings with Oschner representatives in the next couple of weeks, and I will keep each of you informed of the progress we make in this endeavor to provide quality medical services to our rural communities.
AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN ACT
You will recall that at the Administrative Committee meeting of June 15, 2021, I presented a detailed report on the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA”). The portion of that monumental legislation which is of grave significance to St. Martin Parish is Section 603 which establishes a 132.2-billion-dollar fund for local governmental units. I remind you of the key takeaways from that presentation:
• All uses of the funds must be related to a reduction of general revenue or infrastructure deficiencies causally related to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
• Exceptions to the COVID-19 relationship criterion appear to be uses related to water and sewer, broadband, and the recovery of general fund losses in limited instances.
• Funds cannot be used for new buildings or renovations, roads, bridges, or drainage.
• Serious questions which remain relative to the allowable uses of the funds fall within the parameters of whether such funds can be used for public-private partnerships for water and broadband.
• There is no guidance currently relative to the use of funds for prison facilities.
• Funds must be committed before December 31, 2024, and all projects completed before December 31, 2026.
Since that report, the United States Treasury has published additional guidance (an updated “Interim Final Rule” issued on July 19, 2021), and I have conferred with Postlethwaite & Netterville, the accounting/consulting firm who is assisting the Parish in the mandated reporting associated with the receipt and spending of the ARPA funds as well as offering guidance in several other complex areas. I direct your attention in this regard to Resolution Number 21-058-RS which the Council adopted on July 6, 2021.
The allotment to which St. Martin Parish is entitled under ARPA is 10.3 million dollars, payable in two equal tranches. As I previously observed, the initial challenge is determining what, if any, allowable uses are available for St. Martin Parish under the parameters of the act.
At your meeting, I will disclose my “current” plan for the expenditures of the money to which St. Martin Parish is entitled to receive. I believe that the projects which have been identified can be completed within the sunset periods allowed by the Act. Moreover, the plan will be incorporated in the upcoming proposed budget. However, the projects thus far selected, and the amounts assigned to each, will likely change as the guidance evolves. Furthermore, the trillion dollars-plus infrastructure bill making its way through Congress could have an impact on selected uses of the ARPA funds. Unfortunately, and in my view inexplicably, there is nothing specific in the legislation despite the fact that votes have been cast on it.
Two specific areas of my current ARPA plan are water services and the expansion of broadband to the underserved and unserved areas of our Parish. Furthermore, as I have commented in the past, both endeavors should include public-private partnerships to achieve sustainability for the future especially in the broadband field.
I reference my prior discourse on water system issues and the need for broadband in my report of March 16, 2021:
“The Administration is continuing to explore the consolidation of several water districts within our Parish. In the last several weeks, I have had productive meetings among the representatives of the interested systems, the Louisiana Department of Health, and Mr. Jason Akers of the firm of Foley and Judell. Conceptually, the consolidation will be accomplished by the establishment of a new water system created by ordinance of the Parish. The governing board will be representatives of all of the systems which are included in the consolidation. Then, intergovernmental agreements will be confected among the newly created system and each participating water district or system. The right to control rates and the geographical district which each component will serve will be defined.
Meanwhile, Sellers and Associates is developing the necessary geographical boundaries of each participating system AND the district to be created by ordinance. Furthermore, Sellers and Associates is surveying and identifying the rate structure, infrastructure strengths and weaknesses of each participant. It is anticipated that this work will be completed within the next 60 days. At that time, we will entertain another meeting to assess the progress of this venture.”
“In this “post-COVID” economy, the challenge to introduce fiber broadband to rural communities has become critical and as important as OTHER basic utility services. The capacity to upload, download, and live stream, often simultaneously while others are doing the same tasks in a home or commercial setting, has significant implications on rural economic development.”
With the advent of the ARPA legislation, these projects certainly seem obtainable much sooner than I ever anticipated.
However, as I will explain at the meeting, and as alluded to earlier, there remain questions about what a final plan may actually reflect.
NEW WASTE DISPOSAL CONTRACT
On August 10, 2021, I signed the contract with Waste Connections Bayou, Inc. I have requested that representatives of the company be present at your Administrative Committee meeting at which time we will disclose the parameters of the new program. One of its components that you may find interesting is the introduction of an app which will provide all customers immediate access to schedules for collection whether it be bulky waste or household waste. Additionally, one will be able to pay for the services via the app. In due course, we will be discussing other uses of this app, and in this connection, I note that the Parish will have input on what additional features can or should be added to it.
Finally, a major part of the program is that the containers of the current provider, Pelican Waster and Debris, have been purchased by Waste Connections. The company will continue to collect from those containers, thus obviating the necessity of having to issue new containers to all households. A staple of the new program is that two containers will be afforded all customers.
APPOINTMENT TO BOARD OF ACADIANA AREA HUMAN SERVICES DISTRICT
Item 5 of the Administrative Committee agenda is the appointment of Council person Carla JeanBatiste as St. Martin Parish’s representative on the Board of the Acadiana Area Human Services District. The district was created by the Louisiana Legislature pursuant to La. R.S. 28:913. The function of the District is to provide for the administration, management, and operation of behavioral health (mental health and additive disorders) and developmental disabilities services to the residents of Acadia, Evangeline, Iberia, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin, and Vermilion parishes. It operates under the auspices of the Louisiana Department of Health. Qualifications for board membership include professional experience in the fields of additive disorders, developmental disabilities, mental health, and/or public health.
The Board consists of ten members appointed by each of the seven parishes which comprises the District, and three members appointed by the Governor. All members serve without compensation. Frankly, I can think of no one more qualified that Ms. JeanBatiste for membership.
REORGANIZATION OF PARK AND COMMUNITY CENTER STAFFS
To maximize the effectiveness of the personnel assigned to attend to the maintenance of our park grounds and recreational buildings, the Administration has divided the duties and responsibilities among the staff. The ground keepers shall report directly to Heath Babineaux while the maintenance personnel for the buildings and event staff personnel (community/activity/civic centers) shall be under the supervision of Calder Hebert, Director of Administration. This line of division should ensure that more timely and routine work is performed at the facilities and the skill set of our personnel is best utilized. Moreover, I have made it clear that the event staff assigned to each center should be a resident of the community in which it is located. Indeed, we enjoy great “community spirit” within each area of the Parish, and I certainly want event staff who are familiar with those who are most likely to utilize the specific facilities.
PRESENTATION BY COMMUNITY CENTER COORDINATOR
Item 1 of the Administrative/Finance Committee agenda is a presentation by Kechia Lee, the Community Center Coordinator for the Parish. Last year, Ms. Lee assumed the duties of managing the contracts for the rental and other use of the community centers throughout the Parish. Furthermore, she assigns the event staff for functions held at our various centers except for lower St. Martin Parish. Additionally, Ms. Lee meets with and prospective lessees of the facilities when consideration is being given for their rental. It is expected that Kechia will provide us with data relative to the number and type of events held at our four centers: Cade, Cecilia, Catahoula, and Coteau Holmes.
HAZARDOUS WASTE DAY
The Parish’s hazardous waste day is SEPTEMBER 18, 2021, from 8:00 a.m. to noon. The event will be conducted at the Public Safety Complex located at 4870 Main Highway, St. Martinville. We will accommodate only St. Martin Parish residents. The items that will be collected include:
• Alkaline Batteries
• Lithium Batteries
• Auto Batteries
• Electronics (computers, printers, cell phones, etc.)
• Aerosol products
• 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 the flyer below for your easy reference.
Also, the Library Board for the Parish will provide equipment for the shredding of documents and other paper materials.
The City of Breaux Bridge is assisting the Parish in this endeavor as was the case with the last hazardous collection event. Also, as alluded to previously, the Library Board of Control and the Parish’s OEP are likewise working with the Parish.
I will not engage in any lengthy discourse about the current surge of COVID-19 cases except to observe that the direct impact on our administrative offices has been severe. Over the last three weeks, we have had to quarantine close to one-half of our office staff for various periods of time. Three members have been absent for over two weeks. With the number of major projects which we have undertaken, together with the fact we are in the midst of hurricane season-last week we tracked at least two storms/tropical disturbances-and given the fact we have commenced the FY 2022 budget process, the staff has been stretched. I ask for your patience as we maneuver through this process.
While on the issue of COVID-19, on the afternoon of August 10, 2021, I was advised that there was a reported case in one of the cell blocks at the St. Martin Parish jail. As you know, Parish Government is responsible for medical provisions on behalf of all inmates at the jail. Hence, we may experience significant financial issues associated with a possible outbreak. I do note that up to this point, the Correctional Officers at the Parish jail have done an admirable job dealing with this situation and Parish Government has been kept abreast of all remedial steps adopted to keep the matter under control. I thank Sheriff Breaux and his staff for their timely and professional handling of this matter.
RENEWAL OF SALES TAX DISTRICT NO. 1 ONE CENT TAX
Again, I remind you that on October 9, 2021, the voters in the unincorporated areas of the Parish [except for those in Sales Tax District #2 (Cade area)], will vote on whether the one cent sales tax in Sales Tax District No. 1 should be renewed. Under the election code, as the taxing authority, St. Martin Parish Government cannot “campaign” for the renewal of that tax; however, we can provide information which will inform the public of the value of this tax. In other words, we cannot ADVOCATE but we certainly can EDUCATE. I will prepare some fact sheets relative to the tax and circulate it among all of you for review and comment. Beginning in September, we should be prepared to begin discussing the need for the tax renewal at your regular and committee meetings. Any thoughts you have on this tax will be greatly appreciated.
On August 9, 2021, working in conjunction with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the drawdown of Henderson Lake commenced. The drawdown was delayed for one week because of the high level of the Atchafalaya River. Since the drawdown began, the level of the water at Lake Pelba has dropped from 8.2 feet on August 9th to 7.36 feet on August 15th. This computes to an average drop of slightly more than 2 inches which is well within the parameters recommended by LDWF. At this rate, the boat ramp at Butte LaRose will likely be closed by DOTD Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.
For your easy reference, I offer the following from my previous explanations about this project in the event you are confronted with any questions from your constituency:
“According to Mr. Salyers and other biologists with the LDWF, the purpose of the drawdown is to control severe problems with vegetation, especially Hydrilla, Water Hyacinth, and Giant Salvinia. These growths rob the water of valuable, essential nutrients which support fisheries. Additionally, the vegetation impedes navigation. Furthermore, a successful drawdown allows for the compaction of the lakebed, thus aiding in the reproduction of fisheries. Finally, the lowering of the lake may aid with flood prevention in the event of a major storm or rain event.
In preparation for the drawdown this year, we have again developed specific parameters which will govern the opening and closing the gates at the Henderson Lake control structure to insure there will be no issue with the drawdown commencing as scheduled and to minimize any undue fish kill. The operational plan calls for the reduction of the water level by 2 to 4 inches per day until we realize a water level of 6 feet. The level at the lake will be monitored numerous times every day by both the LDWF and our office with daily reports being provided to the United States Army Corps of Engineers, all in accordance with the permit dictates.
During the last drawdowns, our Office has kept meticulous records which LDWF and our public works department will rely upon while the 2021 drawdown lasts. Again, it is expected that the drawdown will terminate no later than November 1, 2021, so as to have minimal impact on the duck hunting season.”
The July tax collections in Sales Tax District #1 were $390,518.61 and exceeded the amounts which have been collected over the last decade. I examined the collections back to 2012. This 2021 July collection compares to $303,398.34 in 2020, and $274,853.46 in 2019. $317,382.18 were the net collections in the closet month, July of 2014. The collections should, however, be tempered by the fact that, for whatever reason, tax collections in July have always been strong.
The net collections in Sales Tax District #2 for last month were $135,631.62. This is the second largest monthly amount received since July 2019. when we collected $139,206.47. The net collections for July 2020 were $93,706.37.
For your reference, I summarize the collections thus far this year as follows:
A. Collections for Sales Tax District #1:
January-July 2021Total Net Collections: $2,149,112.64
January-July 2020 Total Net Collections: $1,698,668.69
January-July 2019 Total Net Collections: $1,800,853.33
Average 2021 7-Month Net Collections: $307,016.09
Average 2020 7-Month Net Collections: $242,666.95
Average 2019 7-Month Net Collections: $257,264.76
B. Collections for Sales Tax District #2:
January-July 2021 Total Net Collections: $738,419.00
January-July 2020 Total Net Collections: $653,457.60
January-July 2019 Total Net Collections: $785,310.80
Average 2021 7-Month Net Collections: $105,488.42
Average 2020 7-Month Net Collections: $93,351.03
Average 2019 7-Month Net Collections: $112,187.25
The hotel/motel tax collections for July were $49,385.52 compared to $32,762.42 in 2020, and $31,168,46 in 2019. As with most taxes, an evaluation of receipts over a period portrays a better basis for projections. Thus, I note that the first 7 months of collections in 2021 compare very favorably with those during the same period in 2019 and 2020:
2019 Combined January-July Collections: $133,289.41
2020 Combined January-July Collections: $114,641.98
2021 Combined January-July Collections: $154,841.57
I have no collection reports for video poker for July. However, our severance tax collections for 2021 is slightly over one million dollars. Our budget was for $900,000.
Needless, to say, the collection of the foregoing revenue is encouraging. However, I am ever mindful of the current COVID-19 issues relative to the rising number of infections and hospitalizations. The impact thereof certainly requires us to remain watchful and cautious.