Highlights from the Parish President’s Report of the St. Martin Parish Council Committee Meetings of December 17, 2019

At your regular meeting of December 3, 2019, Ordinance Number 1282-OR was passed. This is the flood plain ordinance which we have had under review and consideration for several months. On December 9, 2019, I met with Mr. Rodney “Cooney” Richard and Claire Darby, representatives of BCIS, the firm which will serve as the Parish’s flood manager. Also meeting with us were Calder Hebert, Kasey Courville, Heath Babineaux, Morgan Allemond, Shani Dodge, and Holli Guilbeau. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the logistics associated with the implementation of the ordinance to insure an orderly, effective management of it. Suffice it to state that everyone was comfortable with the process and procedures that will be followed in the application of this edict, none of which seems to present any significant administrative burden.

I do note that there will be some minor revisions which I will ask you to adopt by amendment to the ordinance. The changes are designed to clarify that the freeboard requirements are applicable to all areas of the Parish and not just those in a flood zone.

As I advised you at the last meeting, not only will a workable, well drafted flood plain ordinance protect the integrity of new developments and constructions, but it will also prevent them from imposing undue water issues upon existing properties. Furthermore, in due course, this flood plain ordinance will most definitely have a positive influence on insurance rates.

Every public employee and elected official in Louisiana is required to receive one hour of ethics training per year. Moreover, La. R.S. 42:341, et seq, which was enacted in the 2018 regular session, similarly mandates one hour of sexual harassment training annually for public employees and elected officials. I have scheduled for all St. Martin Parish Government employees live presentations on both topics for next Thursday, December 19, 2019. The lessons will be in two sessions: 8:00 A.M.-11:00 A.M. in the council chambers; and, from 12:30 P.M.-3:30 P.M. at the Fire Service Training Center. The presenter will be available for questions and it is my hope and expectation that the substance of the topics will indeed be enhanced by not having any portions of the presentations recorded or online. Of course, all of you are invited to attend.

I have prepared comprehensive PowerPoints regarding the Parish’s Home Rule Charter and the expansive obligations of Parish Government, many of which are unfunded mandates imposed by state law. These presentations will be part of the in-service/orientation scheduled for December 20, 2019, from 9:00 A.M. to Noon at the Council chambers. The unfunded mandate presentation will mirror that which I presented at the PJAL conference last February. I note that several current council members have advised that they will also attend the presentation(s). Moreover, several other parish and municipal officials have been invited to attend and many have advised they will be present. This will be an excellent opportunity for our officials to interact, and I note that many subjects which will be discussed are applicable to all local governmental officers. The subject areas will embrace the Parish’s Home Rule Charter, the Louisiana Open Meetings Law, Public Records Law, and the use of electronic mail and text messages by public officials.

The replacement of the Potato Shed Road Bridge is now complete. For several weeks all that remained for completion was the asphalting of the east and west approaches to the structure. The contractor had advised us in November that he expected the subcontractor for this last phase to complete it during the week after Thanksgiving. That did not happen, inexplicably. Our office called almost every day inquiring of the status. On Friday, December 13, 2109, the approaches were completed. Therefore, by the time you are reading this report, the bridge should be opened. Although it was ready to receive traffic late Friday afternoon, I instructed that the barricades remain intact until the contractor or engineer removed them. I note that the contractor was issued a notice to proceed on June 10, 2019, and given 180 “work days” to complete it. As of December 4, 2019, he had 28 work days left. Therefore, the project was completed ahead of schedule.

On November 13, 2019, I was advised that the Office of Facility Planning and Control has concurred in the award of the contract for Four Mile Bayou Road Bridge Project. At your meeting on November 5, 2019, at my request, you approved the award of the contract contingent upon the concurrence of OFP&C. Hence, upon receipt of the concurrence, the contract with the low bidder, M. Matt Durand, LLC, was executed and the all necessary documents transmitted to the Office of Facility Planning and Control. The engineer for the project has issued to the contractor a “Notice to Proceed” as of January 2, 2020. It was the engineer’s opinion that any earlier date would not be imprudent because the normal 10-day notice period fell on the day after Christmas. I concurred with his position.

I have completed the confection of the first phase of our insurance program for 2020. Specifically, I have bound coverage for our Workers Compensation for 2020 at a premium cost of $174,159.00. This represents a reduction in our premium from last year of $7,678.00. The reduction was based in part on our elimination of several “contract employees” and the enforcement of Parish requirement that mandates that any construction or maintenance of our buildings/premises be performed by contractors with insurance coverage. Our policy is through the Parish Government Risk Management Association (“PGRMA”). The next lowest quote was from LWCC at an annual premium of $200,130.00.

No doubt all of you are aware of the cyber breaches and/or cyber extortion (ransomware) in several agencies of the State of Louisiana and in several local jurisdictions. Indeed, on December 6, 2019, the District Attorney’s Office was a victim of a ransom attack, and as I prepare this report their IT system is still not fully operative. Against this backdrop, last year I rejected an offer for Cyber Liability coverage, believing that the risks of an attack on our system were so unlikely as not to warrant the expense of such coverage. I now “repent.” Thus, I bound coverage for Cyber Liability for an annual premium of $9,674.51. At the forefront of my evaluation is the fact that we now submit electronically the majority of our requests for hazard mitigation funds, Restore Act funds, and Capital Outlay awards. Additionally, the frequency of the recent cyber-attacks referenced above did not escape my attention. Our Director of Finance and IT consultant were in agreement with securing this coverage despite the numerous protections associated with our IT system.

The work of Calder Hebert and Sean Hundley, our Director of Administration and Director of Finance, was invaluable in reviewing securing the aforementioned coverages.

In the coming weeks we will be vetting renewal options for liability and casualty coverage and healthcare. You may recall that last year our total insurance program costs $2,467,133.75.

I have previously reported to you on the Louisiana Watershed Initiative which was formed by the state in order to coordinate the development of flood control measures on a regional basis. Supposedly, 1.21 billion dollars in Community Development Block Grant funding will be made available to the state and local governmental units over the next several years. The state is divided into 8 watershed regions and upper St. Martin falls into Region 5 and lower St. Martin is assigned to Region 6. You have appointed me to the Steering Committee for Region 5, and I have appointed our Director of Public Works to serve on the Steering Committee for Region 6.

The first round of funding will be available in 2020 and will be in the amount of $100 million. Sixty million will be for the State of Louisiana, and 40 million will be equally divided among the 8 regions ($5 million each). The second round of funding is for $200 million and will be extended in 2022, and the final round will be for $270 million in 2024. The date for parishes to submit pre-application for potential projects in each region was December 20, 2019; however, that date was extended to January 17, 2020. The full applications are due on March 27, 2020.

I will be submitting applications on behalf of St. Martin Parish for all of our major flood protection projects: Bayou Estates Flood Wall, Coulee LaSalle, Bayou Fuselier-Ponte Brulee; Catahoula Lake Dredging; Joe Daigre Canal; and Breaux Bridge Manor. The fact that we already have funding sources which can serve as a “match” and the fact that we have plans already prepared, I believe, will inure to our benefit. Plus, we can certainly prove a valuable benefit to the entire Region 5 (and Region 6 relative to the Flood Wall).

The first meeting of the Region 5 Steering Committee is December 17, 2019, the date of our meeting. I will review the foregoing with you under Item 3 of the Agenda for the Public Works Committee meeting as well as what transpires at the December 17th initial meeting of the Steering Committee.

I detect no cogent reason to repeat my observations from my September, October, and November reports regarding our efforts to secure reimbursement for expenses incurred during/after Hurricane Barry and the Spring Flooding events. However, we continue to assiduously provide documentation for our requests. As I previously observed, the myriad of regulations which must be navigated is frustrating, and I have opined that that those regulations seem to be designed to obfuscate the process and make it difficult to recover for emergency expenses. To illustrate the foregoing, we have been advised that to recover for the expenses for sand bagging, it is necessary to identify the quarry from which the sand vendor obtained the sand sold to us. Similarly, one FEMA official specifically requested a narrative of the efforts expended in lower St. Martin and what made the flood efforts there unique. I personally complied with her request only to be informed that the narrative contained too much detail. Nonetheless, we will diligently continue to pursue reimbursement for our expenses.

In addition to Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, the Parish Government offices will be closed on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Of course, select personnel will be on call to address any emergency situation which may arise. Moreover, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and hope that the holiday season is special to and for all of you.

The first meeting of the Parish Council in 2020 will be on January 14, 2020. Justice John Weimer of the Louisiana Supreme Court has agreed to appear and conduct the ceremony of administering the oath of office to all of us. It is indeed an honor to have a justice on the State’s highest Court administer our oaths of office.