Highlights from the Parish President’s Report of the St. Martin Parish Council Committee Meetings of December 21, 2021
RENEWAL OF SALES TAX FOR SALES TAX DISTRICT 1
At the regular meeting on December 7, 2021, a formal notice was given that Parish Government will again seek the renewal of the one cent sales tax for Sales Tax District #1. I have been in close contact with Foley and Judell to discuss a possible election date for the renewal proposition. The 2022 available dates are March 26, 2022 (primary election), April 30, 2022 (general), and November 13, 2022. Everyone concurs that the preferable date would be April 30, 2022. However, there is an issue with this date since it is within six months of the election held on November 13, 2021, when the tax renewal failed. As such, special note should be taken of Article VI, Section 30 of the La. Constitution which states in pertinent part:
“… no political subdivision shall submit the same tax proposition, or a new tax proposition that includes such a tax proposition, to the electorate more than once within a six-month period except in case of an emergency as determined by the governing authority of the political subdivision.” (Emphasis supplied)
An election date of April 30, 2022 would be thirteen days short of the six-month period.
However, several salient factors must be considered in the application of the six-month requirement as regards our particular situation. As a threshold matter, the Parish originally noticed the election for October 8, 2021, on the basis that if the tax failed, it could be resubmitted for voter approval on April 30, 2022. However, the election date was postponed until November 13, 2021, by Executive Order of the Governor. The rescheduling of the election was the product of both local and state declared emergencies associated with Hurricane Ida.
Furthermore, the next election date after April 30, 2022, would be November 13, 2022. This date is AFTER the sales tax expiration of October 1, 2022. Hence, even if approved by the electorate, the tax would not be effective until January 1, 2023. Thus, the Parish would lose three months of revenue which could total close to, if not more than, a million dollars.
Therefore, it is my position that the “emergency” situation envisioned by Article VI, Section 30 of the Louisiana Constitution applies to the scenario with which the Parish is confronted. Consequently, I will likely recommend that we seek bond commission approval to call the election for April 30, 2022, and if that date is not acceptable to the Commission, then we seek the November 13, 2022 date. Foley and Judell concurs in this approach.
As I have previously opined, I remain convinced that the public does not fully grasp the import of this tax and the number of roads and bridges which the Parish is obligated to maintain. We have over 750 roads and 45 bridges. The total mileage of Parish roads is almost 400 miles. Likewise, the cost of maintenance is not fully understood. We must, therefore, do a better job next time informing the public of the necessity of this tax, whatever the election date may be.
ORDINANCE SUMMARY NUMBER 1347-OR
Item 4 of the Administrative/Finance Committee meeting is discussion of a proposed ordinance which mandates the collection of costs set forth in La. R.S. 40:2266.1 against anyone convicted of a criminal offense within any District, Parish, City, or Mayor’s Court in the St. Martin Parish. The costs would be:
• $50.00 for a conviction of operating a vehicle while impaired
• $10.00 for any crime set forth in Title 14 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes
• $30.00 for any traffic violation pursuant to a local ordinance, or for a violation of an offense set forth in Title 32 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes
• $10.00 for a conviction of expired inspection sticker, expired driver’s license, no driver’s license, improper use of a seat belt, or any wildlife offense set forth in Title 56 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes.
All of those costs will go directly to the Acadiana Crime Laboratory. It should be noted that over 97% of the revenue associated with the operation and management of the Crime Lab originates from fines and costs imposed in criminal proceedings.
Finally, the collection of such costs is dependent upon the approval of the governing authority of the Parish where the court is situated. Inexplicably, several Parishes have not considered the imposition of these costs. A mere pursual of the Crime Lab budget which you approved on December 7, 2021, clearly supports this “user fee” imposition. Additionally, these costs are in addition to and not in lieu of other fines imposed in connection with the prosecution of the offenses referenced herein.
LAKE MARTIN UPDATES
On August 3, 2021, Resolution Number 21-061-RS was adopted. The resolution authorized me to confect an Intergovernmental Agreement with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries relative to the repair, rehabilitation, and maintenance of the structures and parking areas at Lake Martin. Since that time, several draft agreements were prepared for review by my office and the legal staff at DWLF. As I advised in previous reports, the DWLF concurred in our suggested revisions to its original draft. Immediately upon receipt of the final document last month, I signed it and submitted it to DWLF. Essentially, the agreement obligates DWLF to repair the structures (landing/boardwalk), and the Parish will assume the future maintenance thereof within our budgetary abilities, of course. Meanwhile, under the agreement, the Parish will maintain the parking area which we have always done as part of our maintenance of Rookery Road.
After execution of the final agreement, I met on several occasions with DWLF officials, Daniel Hill and Raynie Harlan, to discuss the repairs and maintenance of a peninsula area adjacent to and south of the boat ramp. On December 10, 2021, on site at Lake Martin, our Director of Public Works and I conferred with both of them, the architect, and contractor for the structure rehabilitation. The parameters of the project were discussed, and at that time it was agreed that there was no reason to delay the construction work. Hence, on Wednesday, December 15, 2021, the repair work commenced. The project should be completed by the Spring. Fortunately, the boat ramp will remain open during construction since one side at a time will be repaired/reconstructed. The parking lot will not be rehabilitated until completion of the pier and ramp work.
I wish to compliment Mr. Hill and Ms. Harlan for their appreciation of the value of having the Lake open to the public with functionable, safe structures. Of course, Secretary Jack Montoucet of DWLF has been both committed and cooperative, recognizing the public benefit offered by the Lake. Finally, the legal staff at DWLF has been professional in their work on this matter.
PUBLICATION OF ARTICLE BY FIRE SERVICE DISTRICT OFFICER
Parish Government recently recognized the Parks Volunteer Fire Department for having realized a PIAL rating reduction. This is the third department to have received a rate reduction over the last two years. Last Monday, I was informed that an article authored by David Douget, the Training Officer for the Fire Service District, was selected for publication in a distinguished trade journal, Fire Engineering Magazine. The article can be viewed at:
This honor further illustrates the professionalism and expertise of the entire Parish Fire Service. Our Fire Service District, working as team under great leadership, has produced countless dividends for the citizens of St. Martin Parish.
MANDATORY TRAINING IN ETHICS AND SEXUAL HARASSMENT
In my last report, I reminded you and the public of the ethics and sexual harassment training, which was scheduled for December 10, 2021, at the Cecilia Civic Center. 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. Parish Government’s live presentations on both topics on December 10, 2021, was attended by all of the Parish personnel, as well as a number of council members. Likewise, there were several attendees from other governmental entities. The interaction between the presenter and attendees was both interesting and informative. I am especially pleased with the attentiveness and seriousness with 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.
We have started our evaluation and selection of the Parish’s insurance program for 2022. The first phase, Workers Compensation, is almost completed. Our current carrier, Parish Government Risk Management Association (PGRMA) has again offered the most attractive package, both relative to costs and administration. At this point, I do not anticipate that any advantage, financial or otherwise, will be realized by changing our insurer from PGRMA. Also, the annual renewal costs at this point stand at $190,239.00 which is a decrease of $927.00 from last year’s premium. Our experience modification decreased from 1.22 to 1.19. Additionally, our total payroll decreased from approximately 4.6 to 4.3 million dollars. Before a final quote is prepared, however, there will be a further review to ensure that there are not any unconsidered factors might affect the cost. Regardless, as matters now stand, it appears that we will not experience any increase in the rates for this coverage.
I have received quotes for healthcare coverage for employees. Fortunately, we were able to lower the original projected increase to only 1.47% with regard to current employees. The primary factor behind this modest, and favorable increase, was the removal of the retirees from our plan for current employees and providing the retirees with coverage under the BCBS Medicare Advantage Plan. When we factor in the savings associated with the retiree plan, we will have a REDUCTION in total healthcare costs of 8.48% for 2022.
In the coming weeks, I will be vetting renewal options for property insurance, cybersecurity coverage, liability and casualty coverage. The property insurance coverage will prove to be particularly challenging because of the losses incurred by insurers over the last two years in connection with the number of adverse weather events which the State of Louisiana has endured.
As a point of reference, the total costs of the Parish’s insurance program costs for 2021 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
I am certainly available to discuss this critical aspect of Parish Government affairs with any of you at any time. Note that our FY 2022 Budget estimates the total increase costs to be 10% above 2021.
RURAL HEALTH CLINIC IN CECILIA/ARNAUDVILLE AREA
The development of the rural health clinic in Cecilia continues to evolve. First, I refer to these remarks from my report of April 21, 2021:
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.
In July 2021, preliminary estimates for the cost to renovate the former technology center to accommodate medical clinicians and to possibly house a behavioral unit specializing in opioid addictions fell well within our budgetary abilities. Furthermore, in accordance with my previous presentations to you relative to the use of a portion of the Parish’s ARPA funds for the construction of the clinic, and pursuant to the recently adopted 2022 budget, construction plans have now been finalized. As I prepare this report, I am awaiting receipt of an operational agreement from Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center which will define the monthly lease/management fee to be paid to the Parish as well as other terms and conditions of the accord. This project is possible as a result of the funds which the Parish received in the agreement with St. Landry Parish upon the abolition of the former Hospital Services District No. 1 which included portions of both St. Martin and St. Landry Parishes. Furthermore, these funds originated from a millage dedicated to providing healthcare services to the abolished district. Although not legally required, the use of the funds for healthcare pursuits satisfies the conditions and purposes of the millage as approved and authorized by the electorate.
The facility, as designed, will have the capability to house at least two physicians and have six exam rooms and a fully functional laboratory. If all proceeds as planned, the project should be let for bids in January or February of 2022.
I will continue to regularly meet with Ochsner representatives to insure we keep this project on track, 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.
LIBRARY SYSTEM PRESENTATION
Item 1 of the agenda for the Administrative/Finance Committee meeting calls for a presentation by Ms. Charlar Brew, the Executive Director of the Library system for St. Martin Parish. Most of the public do not know that the Library Board of Control is a component of Parish Government. It functions independently from Parish Government only as regards the day-to-day operations of the libraries in the Parish. All library buildings are owned by Parish Government and the two mileages which fund the library operations are imposed at the Parish’s call. As Parish President, I am an ex officio member of the Board of Control.
Ms. Brew will provide an overview of our library system. I am certain she will promote the new library facilities in Breaux Bridge and Cecilia as well as the planned renovations for the St. Martinville branch. I can personally attest to the professionalism, dedication, and expertise of Ms. Brew. Moreover, she is a true public servant to not only the library system but to other community organizations as well.
Last month, I reminded you that we have commenced the groundwork for the re-design of the Parish’s website. I noted that:
The FY 2022 Budget allocates funds for the re-design of the Parish’s website and the digitalization of all Parish records which must be maintained permanently. This is both a significant and necessary undertaking which is far overdue. The Website revision will be through Revize, a company which specializes in government websites. My executive secretary and your Clerk (Lesley Thibodeaux and Brooke Gillespie) have met with me on several occasions to review various designs and to formulate a plan for including information relative to ALL departments and affairs in which St. Martin Parish Government is engaged. For example, the website should not only explain the expanse of our public works endeavors, but also reflect photographs of our crews AT WORK. Over the next several weeks, we will meet with each department head and isolate precisely what will be needed from that department for inclusion on the re-designed website. Of course, each council member will be asked to confer with us to ensure every district is well represented. Please keep in mind that our website will be designed to impart valuable information and not simply to promote.
The digitalization of Parish Government Records will commence with an identification of all records which must be digitized. We want to be assured that any record can be located by keyword searches as opposed to having to manually review records. This will not only protect the integrity of our records, but also make them more easily and conveniently accessible.
To date, all department heads and Directors have provided updated information regarding the operations of their respective departments. Moreover, photographs have been taken of key personnel to be posted together with a succinct bio of each. Over the next several days, photographs will be taken depicting ALL aspects of Parish projects and facilities. I am certain that each of you will enjoy the new website once it is up and running. Of even greater importance is that the new design will be user friendly and impart to the general public a detailed, accurate description of the work we do.
HOLIDAY CLOSURE SCHEDULE/HOLIDAY GREETING
In accordance with our Policy Manual, I have set the holiday schedule for the Parish facilities. For Christmas, our offices will be closed on Christmas Eve (Friday) and re-open on December 28, 2022. This is consistent with the State’s Christmas schedule as fixed by the Governor’s Proclamation 215 JBE 2021. Closures for the New Year’s holiday will be Friday, December 31, 2021, only. Therefore, full operations will resume on Monday, January 3, 2022.
Barring any sort of emergency which would warrant a special meeting, this will be the Council’s last meeting of the year. I have enjoyed working with all of you and appreciate your cooperation with the administration as we have endured another very challenging year. As a Council, you should be proud of the work you have done representing St. Martin Parish during these unprecedented times. I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
UPDATE ON CATAHOULA DREDGING PROJECT
For a myriad of reasons, the bid phase for the Catahoula project has been delayed. Because of unprecedented increases in construction costs and related matters, new budget projections have become necessary. As you are aware, a budget projection is a necessary prerequisite for letting for bid any public project. However, upon meeting with the engineers for the project, Sellers & Associates, I received last Friday updated budget estimates and a bid/project schedule. The construction budget has now been fixed at $1,500,000. With servitudes costs, mitigation expenses, and engineering fees, the total project cost is $1,823,254.03. Our bond proceeds are sufficient to cover these expenses, and the recent bond projects which have been underbudget will assuage the increased budgeted amounts.
Moreover, the schedule for bidding will be from January 26, 2022 to February 23, 2022. An award of the contract will take place on March 1, 2022, with actual construction scheduled to commence of May 1, 2022. The completion of the project should be completed by December 31, 2022. I have instructed the engineers to proceed with dispatch.
The November net tax collections in Sales Tax District #1 were $287,067.50. Although this is less than what was collected last month, it is nonetheless the largest collection for the month of November according to the data readily available to me which dates to 2012. The current 2021 November net collections compare to $281,067.50 collected in 2020, and $167,753.94 received in 2019.
The net collections for November in Sales tax District #2 were the third highest this year. The collections totaled $130,439.94. The amount received in November 2019 was $107,391.90 and in November 2020, the net collections were $98,229.09.
The sales tax reports I have seen from other Parishes in Acadiana reflect similar amounts of increased collections from recent years. This trend is particularly intriguing when one considers the unavailability of large items such as automobiles and appliances. Regardless, I do not relent from my prior observations on this issue to the effect that:
“I am constrained to again opine that the strength of our sales tax collections, while remaining unexpectedly strong, must be evaluated against the backdrop of bleak economic forecasts which include continued acute rises in the price of consumer goods, oil and gas, and staple goods and services. All of the foregoing factors portend a potential recession. Also, we should be ever mindful of limited supply chains for materials and food products. All of the foregoing are certainly sharp indicators which warrant the continued close scrutiny of our finances.”
In keeping with my previous practices, I summarize for reference the collections thus far this year as follows:
A. Collections for Sales Tax District #1:
January-November 2021Total Net Collections: $3,391,065.51
January-November 2020 Total Net Collections: $2,781,194.63
January-November 2019 Total Net Collections: $2,690,835.79
Average 2021 11-Month Net Collections: $308,278.62
Average 2020 11-Month Net Collections: $252,835.89
Average 2019 11-Month Net Collections: $244,621.43
B. Collections for Sales Tax District #2:
January-November 2021 Total Net Collections: $1,211,937.60
January-November 2020 Total Net Collections: $1,072,610.38
January-November 2019 Total Net Collections: $1,188,326.54
Average 2021 11-Month Net Collections: $110,176.14
Average 2020 11-Month Net Collections: $97,510.03
Average 2019 11-Month Net Collections: $108,029.68
The hotel/motel tax collections for November were $33,643.31 compared to $34,472.16 in 2020, and $21,913.21 in 2019. As I have previously noted, the fluctuations in the amount received from month to month, renders it extremely difficult to draw meaningful conclusions simply and solely from monthly comparisons/contrasts of these collections. An evaluation of receipts over a period of time portrays a more cogent basis for the digestion and projections for hotel/motel collections. Thus, I note that the first 11 months of collections in 2021continues to compare very favorably with those during the same period in 2019 and 2020:
2019 Combined January-November Collections: $231,742.50
2020 Combined January-November Collections: $262,174.50
2021 Combined January-November Collections: $288,604.54
I do not relent from prior statements to that the impact of weather events outside our region has significantly and positively impacted the local hotel/motel activity in our Parish in view of the number of workers and displaced residents who have availed themselves of our local facilities. However, on the other hand, the cancellation of fairs and festivals in our area has no doubt has a suppressive effect on such activity.
We have recently received a Video Poker distribution from the State Treasury. The amount collected up to and including November 30, 2021, is $1,872,866.95. As I informed you last month, the amount collected in all of 2020 was $1,524,015.01 and in all of 2019 was $1,473,301.35. I still have no empirical explanation for these impressive collections given the current economic environment.
WASTE CONNECTIONS/NEW WASTE COLLECTION PROGRAM
As we all know, on January 1, 2022, Waste Connections will be replacing Pelican Waste and Debris as the Parish contractor for waste disposal services. Meticulous and detailed planning has transpired among Waste Connections personnel, members of our staff (Lesley Thibodeaux and Brooke Gillespie), and myself all in an effort to have as smooth of a transition as possible. Our work has embraced a variety of matters ranging from the selection of recycling drop-off locations to the particularized design/services offered by the Waste Connections app. Additionally, the Parish’s website has likewise been updated to describe the new provider’s service parameters includes actual routes and dates of service for collection of both household and bulk waste.
One issue which has been of major concern is the number of containers which have not been serviced by our current provider, often because of past due bills. Similarly, there are numerous areas of the Parish which have not been subject to bulk waste collection. Household and bulk waste have accumulated and/or been deposited in many areas along our roads and drainage laterals. With the upcoming holidays, I am concerned about such continued accumulation which will most assuredly enhance already growing public safety concerns. Therefore, I have met with our public works supervisors and the following plan has been developed to address this problem. Beginning Monday, December 20, 2021, three separate crews will collect throughout the Parish accumulated bulk waste, other waste accumulations, and sever littering which pose safety concerns. Public Works has separated the Parish into zones which will be inspected by each crew. A crew will consist of one public works employee, at least 3 trustees, a dump truck, and backhoe. It is anticipated that the collection efforts should be completed in three days at most. Although I adopt this measure with some ambivalence, given the totality of the circumstances, I feel we have no choice.
I am very grateful to Sheriff Becket Breaux who has agreed to provide the inmate crews. When I discussed this matter with him, requesting only one crew, he immediately advised he would furnish two crews. Within ten minutes, he called me and stated that he would provide an additional inmate crew.
I admonish you that despite the meticulous planning for this transition, there will nonetheless be unexpected issues. However, I truly believe that the advanced work which has been done will significantly minimize most of the problems which accompany any transition. The acquisition of the Pelican containers by Waste Connections will hopefully eliminate many of the problems which we experienced in the last transition.