Highlights from the Parish President’s Report of the St. Martin Parish Council Committee Meetings of December 15, 2020

 

LGAP AND CWEF FUNDS

In my last report, I observed:

On August 4, 2020, you approved Resolution Number 059-RS relative to applying for grants from the Louisiana Government Assistance Program (LGAP) and Community Water Enrichment Fund (CWEF). We have processed the necessary documents to insure our entitlement to the proceeds from those programs. However, the available funds have been substantially reduced. This year, the funding available for all local units in the Parish will be $58,500 for LGAP compared to $165,700 last year. CWEF funding will be $64,500 for the entire Parish compared to $143,000 in FY 2019-2020. The Parish’s share will be $13,000 for LGAP and $18,500 for CWEF for 2021.

I have since confirmed the amounts the Parish will receive. Moreover, I conferred with all of the directors, and it has been decided that the LGAP funds/grant will be used for the acquisition of mowers for our park facilities. Meanwhile, the CWEF grand proceeds will be utilized for the purchase of a clarifier at the Industrial Water Plant.
 

2021 COMMITTEE PRESENTATIONS

As I previously advised, commencing in January 2021, there will be presentations by the administration at each of your committee meeting. Specifically, each month, a department or division will be responsible for a brief description of their duties, responsibilities, and the nature of the services rendered. The preliminary schedule is as follows:

  • January 2021 – Water Plant/Industrial Park
  • February 2021 – Section 8 Housing
  • March 2021 – Planning and Zoning, including nuisances
  • April 2021 – Animal Control
  • May 2021 – Fire Service District
  • June 2021 – OEP Operations
  • July 2021 – Building Permits/Inspections
  • August 2021 – Parks and Recreation/Community Centers
  • September 2021 – Health Units
  • October 2021 – Tourism
  • November 2021 – Public Works Structure to include number of miles of roads, number of laterals, number of bridges, and so forth
  • December 2021 – Library System

The water plant presentation will be of particular import since many members of the public are unaware of the existence of this facility, and the costs associated with its operations.

While on the subject of this facility, I have commissioned a study of the rate structure for the plant which is being prepared by the La. Rural Water Association. The study is at no cost. Also, I have again initiated discussions with both the USDA and La. Department of Health relative to both our facility and the water districts in the Parish. Specifically, I am seeking avenues that will allow for infrastructure expansion and improvements. As matters crystallize, I will provide you with more specifics. In a nutshell, I am exploring the potential for the consolidation of several public water systems which is a concept strongly endorsed by the Department of Health and USDA. I commenced such discourse last February, but the COVID-19 Pandemic prevented any progress in studying this concept until now.
 

RESOULTION HONORING RENEE HOFFPAUIR

Item 3 of the agenda for the Administrative/Finance Committee Meeting is a proposed resolution recognizing the work of the late Renee Hoffpauir who served as the Victim Assistance Coordinator for the 16th Judicial District. She worked in that capacity in the District Attorney’s Office in St. Martin Parish for twenty-eight (28) years. Renee and I worked together for almost two decades, and I can personally attest to the valuable services she provided to victims and family members of victims. In 2011, she received the Louisiana Outstanding Victim/Witness Assistance Coordinator Award. Also, she was certified from the National Advocate Credentialing Program (“NACP”) as a Comprehensive Victim Intervention Specialist. Renee died in a tragic ATV accident on November 22, 2020.

I submit that honoring Renee sheds light on not only the work she did, but also emphasizes a facet of law enforcement and the criminal justice system of which the general public is unaware and/or which is far too often overlooked. If this resolution is adopted, an original will be given to her family and a multiple original will be prominently and permanently displayed in the St. Martin Parish Courthouse. In addition, I will issue a proclamation proclaiming the first day of spring as “Victims Recognition Day” in honor of the late Ms. Hoffpauir.
 

GRAMMY NOMINATION FOR SWEET CECILIA

The local band known as Sweet Cecilia has been nominated for a Grammy Award. This band is a family trio from the Cecilia community. Their music is deeply rooted in country, rock, folk, and Cajun influences. The band consists of Laura Huval and Maegan Berard (sisters) and Callie Guidry, the first cousin of Laura and Maegan.

The band has been nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Regional Roots Album Category for their album, “A Tribute to Al Berard.” As you are aware, Al Berard was the father of Laura and Maegan, and of course the uncle of Callie. Moreover, Mr. Berard was nominated many years ago for a Grammy.

The award ceremonies will be televised on the evening on January 31, 2021. The ceremonies will be broadcast remotely; however, a reporter/camera operator will be at the homes/offices of the nominees to broadcast their reactions during the show. Sweet Cecilia has requested the use of the Cecilia Civic Center for their families to jointly meet and view the ceremonies. Of course, I have accommodated them in that entreaty. Therefore, our newest facility will be highlighted on national television together with our local talent.
 

TRUSTY CREWS

Item 2 of the Public Works Committee meeting is a renewal of the trusty program via a contract with Sheriff Becket Breaux. As most of you are aware, each year the Parish contracts with the Sheriff’s office for the use of a trusty crew of 3 trustys to perform a litany of maintenance work on and at Parish facilities. In all candor, last year I thought long and hard about whether the effectiveness of the trusty crew, weighed against the quality of work performed, justified the monthly charge of $4,230. In April, the program was suspended because of COVID-19.

In September of this year, the new administration at the Sheriff’s Office advised me that they were prepared to again allow the use of the trusty crew. Therefore, I met with Sheriff Breaux and members of his staff at which time the many features of the previous program were changed, and the scope of work the trustys would be allowed to perform was enhanced. Since that time, I have closely monitored the work of the trusty crew, and I note that the work now being performed has indeed been enhanced in both scope and quality.

Hence, with great comfort and confidence, I recommend the Council authorize the confection of the proposed contract for the crew during the year 2021. Moreover, I note that the agreement now provides for a termination without cause at the discretion of either party. Consequently, should the situation warrant, the contract can be discontinued at any time.
 

MANDATORY TRAINING IN ETHICS AND SEXUAL HARASSMENT

As you are aware, every public employee and elected official is required to receive one hour of ethics training a year. Moreover, under legislation enacted in 2018, La. R.S. 42:341, et seq similarly mandates annual sexual harassment training for public employees. In compliance with those dictates, Parish Government sponsored live presentations on both topics on December 8, 2020. The lessons were in two sessions: 8:00 A.M.-11:00 A.M. and from 12:30 P.M.-3:30 P.M. Of course, all of the Parish employees attended as well as some of you. Likewise, there were several attendees from other governmental entities. The training was at the Cecilia Civic Center. The sessions were informative. I am especially pleased with the attentiveness and seriousness which our employees approached this training.

I wish to extend my appreciation to Kim Duplechain, our personnel officer, for her work in scheduling the training and securing the services of the presenter, David Stanford. My executive secretary, Lesley Thibodeaux, and Brooke Gillespie assisted and of course, I am appreciative of their efforts as well. More importantly, I thank all of our employees, supervisors, and directors for their attentiveness during the sessions.


 

INSURANCE COVERAGES/PROGRAM

We have started our evaluation of the Parish’s insurance program for 2021. The first phase, Workers Compensation, is almost completed. The two potential insurers being evaluated are our current carrier, Parish Government Risk Management Association (PGRMA) and LWCC. I do not anticipate that any advantage, financial or otherwise, will be realized by changing from our current insurer, PGRMA. Also, the annual renewal costs at this point stand at $192,445.00 which is an increase of $18,286.00 from last year. This figure represents 10.5% increase. Our experience modification rose from 1.15 to 1.22. However, the payroll factor being utilized to compute the proposed premium seems, at first blush, to be subject to adjustment. Of course, this issue will be explored before any final commitment.

In the coming weeks, we will be vetting renewal options for property insurance, cybersecurity coverage, liability and casualty coverage, and healthcare. The property insurance coverage will prove to be particularly challenging because of the construction, occupation, and use of our new community centers and the completion of the bulk of our park improvements. Additionally, property insurers most assuredly are ever mindful of the active hurricane season which the State of Louisiana experienced. The complicity of the foregoing will obviously impact the 2021 costs of such coverages. To mitigate the negative effect of those factors on renewal rates, I have identified several buildings which, frankly speaking, are not occupied and which, from a pragmatic perspective, are of no value. Thus, it is likely that coverage of those structures will be reduced and/or eliminated.

You may recall that last year our total insurance program costs were $2,558,319.23, and are itemized as follows:

    • Liability and Casualty: $232,782.00
    • Property Insurance: $191,767.00
    • Fire Serviced District: $157,282.00
    • Workers Compensation: $174,159.00
    • Cyber Liability: $9,674.51
    • Healthcare: $1,792,654.72
    • TOTAL: $2,558,319.23

Finally, I wish to thank our Director of Administration, Calder Hebert, who has professionally, diligently, and timely discharged numerous and burdensome directives which I have issued relative to the renewal of our program.
 

PONTOON BRIDGE UPDATES

I offer the following remarks from previous reports relative to the Pontoon Bridge replacement project:

The Pontoon Bridge replacement project continues to progress. We anticipate that construction will commence in late spring of 2021 at a cost of $9.5 million. Of course, once the replacement project starts, it will be necessary to close access for several months. The new bridge will be a two-lane swing span structure…

On February 6, 2020, I met with the engineers for this project and reviewed the status thereof. The cost to replace the bridge at a different location would introduce additional costs of 1.5 to 2 million dollars. Moreover, numerous permitting issues would be introduced as well as the necessity of building new roads on the levee. Obviously, our budget for the project will not accommodate this option of an offset construction.

We also discussed the wisdom of constructing a one lane v. two lane structure. The former presented several safety concerns because of the height of the new bridge. As such, it was the engineers’ recommendation that the new bridge be a two-lane swing span structure. The total cost, including engineering fees and a 10% contingency, would be $9,491,335.00. Our available funds for this project are $9,480,212.00. Therefore, I requested that the engineers proceed with the design of a two-lane swing span bridge at the current location. It is anticipated that the construction will commence in the Spring of 2021 and take approximately 12 months to complete.

The project remains on schedule according to my recent discourse with our engineers, Huval and Associates.

Against the foregoing backdrop, I note that there have been requests for the Parish to preserve the current bridge and relocate it for various community-oriented uses. I am not opposed to this idea; however, there are numerous obstacles which must be navigated for this to happen. On the forefront is the fact that, from a structural perspective, the removal and preservation of the bridge may not be feasible or possible. Moreover, the cost associated therewith could present an unreasonable burden on the public fisc. In spite of these concerns, as stated previously, I have not dismissed the possibility of salvaging the bridge or a portion thereof. However, to make a commitment, one way or the other, at this point in time would be unfair and misleading. After discussing this proposition with our Director of Public Works and our engineering firm for the project, I have been advised that the dictates of prudence mandate that we visit this proposition with the contractor who is ultimately awarded the bid for the project. At that stage, the matter can be better vetted and alternatives explored with more certainty.

An additional issue which has presented itself relative to the bridge replacement is that DOTD has scheduled a rehabilitation project on the I-10 Butte LaRose ramps, commencing in January, 2021. This is a 2-3-month project and during the construction phase, traffic will be diverted across the Pontoon Bridge. If that work proceeds as currently scheduled, there should be no interference with our Pontoon Bridge replacement undertaking. However, we recently learned that DOTD may delay the start of the I-10 ramp work which could prove to be problematic. We will be addressing this situation to insure proper coordination of the projects. Frankly, I do not understand why the I-10 ramp rehabilitation is proceeding before repairs to the levee road near Henderson.
 

LOUISIANA COMMISSION FOR JUSTICE SYSTEM FUNDING

In 2019, the Louisiana Legislature established a commission to study the extent to which the criminal justice system relies upon financial obligations imposed upon persons who commit criminal offenses, and to develop recommendations that would permit the state to provide for a “system that is funded through means that provide stability and fairness.’’ Essentially, the commission was formed to study alternative methods of funding the judicial system especially in view of the 2017 criminal justice reform legislation. By virtue of HCR 3 of the 2020 Legislature, the Commission was continued and its purpose specifically defined “…to continue to study financial obligations of criminal defendants and how those financial obligations are used to fund and subsidize core functions of the Louisiana court system, and to continue to study and determine optimal methods of supporting and funding the Louisiana court system in a way that would allow for the implementation of changes made in Act No. 260 of the 2017 Regular Session of the Legislature.” Translated, what is obviously at play is the potential imposition of more UNFUNDED MANDATES on local governments.

HCR 3 expanded the membership of the commission to include a representative of local parish governing authorities. On behalf of Parish governing authorities, I was asked to accept the appointment to the Commission as that representative. I accepted. At an organizational/introductory meeting of the Commission last Thursday, the need for several subcommittees was discussed, and I have requested appointments to those subcommittees which I feel are especially important to local governmental interests.

All of you are aware of my objections to, and chagrin about, both the scope of unfunded mandates directed to local government and what I view to be unfair and constitutionally questionable legislative requirements that local government fund state established offices. Indeed, I have made presentations on this matter at PJAL and District Attorney conferences. I will keep all of you up to date on developments of the work of this extremely important commission which has more or less “flown under the radar.”
 

CARES ACT/FEDERAL STIMULUS LEGISLATION

Last month I reported that:

As you will recall, on March 27, 2020, President Trump signed the CARES Act which is a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill adopted in response to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over $300 billion were directed to state and local government to offset expenses incurred in connection with mitigation measures. My initial review of this legislation, which is quite voluminous, convinced me that the amount set aside for state and local governments was weighted in favor of larger jurisdictions. As time has gone by, nothing has transpired to discount or otherwise influence my position in that regard.

In any case, we sought reimbursement for numerous expenses ranging from the cost of security for inmates who contracted COVID-19 to the costs of the construction of plexiglass barriers at various Parish buildings. Last week, we learned that the Parish will receive $8,145.15. Our claim for additional security and supplies for masks, sanitizers, and similar supplies was allowed; however, our claims for the cost/expense of permanent barriers which we constructed pursuant to CDC guidelines were disallowed.

We will continue to vet any and all stimulus programs designed to aid local government because of the pandemic. Indeed, reimbursement simply represents a return of the tax dollars our constituents have already paid.

As I prepare this report, Congress is still considering a second “Cares Act” type of stimulus package. However, there is a serious “divide” on the amount of potential direct stimulus payments. The proposed amounts range from zero to $1,200. Moreover, there is disagreement over aid to state and local governmental units and small business loans. Most commentary on this issue agree that if no accord is reached by the end of next week, there will be no package before the end of the year.
 

TAX COLLECTIONS

I have reviewed the most recent reports relative to our tax collections from November and outline them as follows:

Sales Tax District #1: $281,948.83 compared to $167,753.94 in Nov. 2019 and $282,560.11 last month
Sales Tax District #2: $98,229.02 compared to $107,391.90 in Nov. 2019 and $92,915.28 last month

Collections in Sales Tax District #1 now averages $256,944.84 per month in 2020, while the monthly average in 2019 was $252,600.54. The monthly average in Sales Tax District #2 thus far this year is $99,015.53, compared to a monthly average in 2019 of 107,926.53.

The hotel/motel tax collections for November were $34,472.16, compared to November 2019 collections in the amount of $21,913.21. The monthly average for 2020 is $24,743.13, compared to a monthly average of $22,730.95 in 2019.

Video Poker revenue for 2020 totals $1,396,766.46. For all of last year, our collections totaled $1,473,301.35.

Although our revenue in the foregoing areas remain positive, my prior impressions on the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic and the declining oil and gas industry remain unchanged. While the federal stimulus packages and storms have had a positive impact on our revenue, the effects therefrom will evaporate as we proceed in 2021. Therefore, we will continue to closely monitor our revenue during the upcoming month. It will be of extreme interest to gauge the impact of the vaccines which are now imminent.