Highlights from the Parish President’s Report of the St. Martin Parish Council Committee Meetings of January 19, 2021

UPDATED POLICY MANUAL
In my January committee meeting report last year, I advised:

Several months ago, I received a comprehensive analysis of our current Policy Manual which was prepared by Cliff Lacour with the firm of NeunerPate. As such, the manual will soon be reviewed SECTION BY SECTION…and[I] will address with extraordinary attention every area including particularly (though not exclusively) sections regarding the use of parish issued electronic devices (computers, cell phones, etc.), social media, overtime, and new designations of part-time employees. Another significant area being researched is how to handle supplemental healthcare for Medicare eligible retirees without compromise to coverage. In this connection, I hope to finalize this endeavor by mid-summer.

I did not meet my “mid-summer” deadline for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which was the COVID-19 Pandemic and an abnormal number of storms. However, the final policy revisions/additions have NOW been completed with the exception of a few minor edits.

Sometime next week, I will transmit to each of you, in electronic format, the revised policy of your review, comment, and approval. Indeed, Section 4-06(E) of the Home Rule Charter provides that changes in the policy manual must be by ordinance. The format of the proposed policy will be as follows. Any section which has not been changed will be in black, additions and revisions will be red. Deletions will be lineated in red.

The policy manual has not been updated since its adoption in 2000, and I am sure you will agree that this project is long overdue. Noteworthy changes address overtime/compensatory time, annual and sick leave accumulation, and a Medicare “carve-out” for retirees relative to healthcare coverage. As regards the latter, I specifically direct your attention to Section 4.15 which pertains to healthcare benefits.

The accumulation of annual and sick leave has been substantially changed and warrants your attention. No longer will an employee be allowed to accumulate unlimited leave. Moreover, the payment of unused leave upon separation from employment, whether by retirement or otherwise, will be limited to 240 hours. The leave provisions of the proposed manual bring the Parish in line with other entities similarly situated and the private sector.

Of course, the amendments to the policy manual cannot impair (reduce) any rights which an employee may earned or received under the previous policy. All legally vested rights will be honored as required by law. Prospectively, however, the new manual will control.

Additionally, in the ordinance which I shall propose there will be a provision for the appointment of a personnel officer. Despite the dictates of Section 4-3(B) of the Home Rule Charter, there has never been a personnel officer appointed by the Parish President and approved by the Council. Moreover, the Organizational Chart will need to be revised to reflect the position and hierarchy associated with the personnel officer position. Of course, I will formally and officially appoint Kim Duplechain to the position.

SUMMER RECREATIONAL PROGRAM
As you will recall, last year the Parish’s Summer Recreational Program was cancelled because of COVID-19 concerns. Recently, I conferred with our Director of Recreation and made the decision that we will sponsor our recreational program for 2021. This Wednesday, the Park directors, Calder Hebert, and I will be meeting to discuss the parameters and protocols which we will establish for the program. Candidly, we will likewise adopt safety measures closely akin to those previously approved and implemented by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association.

I am not unmindful of the continual presence of COVID-19 and the fact that there has been a recent spike in the number of cases. However, the increase in the cases has not the product of outdoor activities such as sporting events. Consequently, with reasonable safety measures in place, our ability to offer our youth the opportunity to play ball will be a positive step to a return to normalcy without compromise to safety concerns.

PLANNING AND ZONING COORDINATOR/NUISANCE
The Planning and Zoning Coordinator/Nuisance Officer officially became vacant on January 6, 2021. The previous coordinator had been unable to work since November 19, 2020, which placed an unexpected burden on both that department and our Permits Division since both areas work, essentially, tangentially. However, since November 23, 2020, Morgan Allemond from permits has voluntarily undertaken the handling of both nuisances and planning and zoning. Indeed, in a matter of weeks, she has addressed a number of complaints and has scheduled at least two Show Cause hearings which will come before the Council at your February meeting. Moreover, our Compliance Officer, Ronald Solarie, also stepped up and filled a major void in those divisions.

As I prepared to evaluate the replacement of the P&Z Coordinator, Morgan approached me and advised that she was interested in assuming that position permanently. Her assumption of the directorship would be a promotion. Over a two-day period, she and I entertained in depth discourse over what was expected of her on the one hand and on the other hand, my reticence to lose her experience in permits. The bottom line is that I concluded that to refuse her the opportunity to advance in our organization would be a disservice to Morgan individually and Parish Government overall. Without a doubt she is fully qualified and capable of handling the P&Z/Nuisance position. Therefore, I promoted her with the understanding that she would work closely with her replacement in permits so that this important division would not be disadvantaged.

I am excited over the prospect of this opportunity for Morgan. Her work ethic is second to none, and her organizational skills are excellent. As I prepare this report, we are already very close to having a replacement for Morgan in permits.

INSURANCE COVERAGES/PROGRAM
I am near the confection of our insurance program for 2021. In my report for December, 2020, I reviewed the status of our insurance program for 2021 and therefore repeat my remarks to you:

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 the 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.

The current carrier for our casualty insurance, Berkley, is not offering a renewal plan. Thus, our agent, Brown and Brown, has solicited several other companies for casualty coverage, the most attractive one being Travelers. In connection with the interest shown by that company, on December 22, 2020, Brown and Brown representatives, Calder Hebert, and I participated in a lengthy meeting with Marshall Eady, a Senior Regional Specialist in the Public Sector Risk Control division of Travelers. He works out of Brandon, Mississippi. During this convocation, we discussed with him numerous aspects of Parish Government operations. He appeared particularly interested in the changes which the Parish made in our jail medical program and our vehicle use policies. Moreover, he embraced many of the revisions which are reflected in the revised policy manual. I am optimistic that we will receive a favorable quote/offer from Travelers. Although I resisted an increase in our SIR last year, I may well agree to one for 2021. I feel constrained to observe that Mr. Eady, like me, was not overly impressed with some of the supposed tort reform legislation which the State enacted last Summer, concurring that the real issues with personal injury and property liability claims were not addressed.

On another positive note, our healthcare coverage will NOT increase from the rates which were quoted lasted year. I applaud the efforts of Kim Duplechain and Calder Hebert in that area.

WATER PLANT/INDUSTRIAL PARK PRESENTATION
Under Item 1 of the Public Works Committee Meeting agenda will be a presentation by our Operations Manager, Heath Babineaux, relative to the Parish’s water plant and industrial park facilities. This is a part of a plan for a department of Parish Government to discuss with you at each committee meeting the scope of services they provide. As I have commented on many prior occasions, the general public has a misunderstanding, or lack of understanding, of the vast scope of obligations and duties which Parish Government undertakes.

As regards our Water Plant, last month I commissioned a rate study by the Louisiana Rural Water Association. Frankly, although the Parish services only a few “customers”, the rates charges are grossly less that what they should be. Currently, the plant provides water to LASUCA (St. John Sugar Mill), Waterworks District Number 4 (Catahoula), Food-N-Fun, and Evangeline Vo-Technical School. The largest consumers are LASUCA and Waterworks District No. 4.

As the presentation will reflect, our plant has the capacity to service many more consumers/water suppliers. Therefore, over the last several weeks, I have conferred with the La. Department of Health, United States Department of Agricultural, and the Louisiana Rural Water Association about the prospect of a consolidation of several water districts in our area. This proposition has been vigorously embraced by those agencies as well as several of the water districts with whom I have conferred. I commenced this endeavor last year; however, my efforts were thwarted by the COVID-19 Pandemic which unfortunately monopolized the time and resources of the La. Department of Health which necessarily is a major component of any such consolidation discourse.

The consolidation of some of our districts will produce many dividends. At the forefront of the equation is the fact that the Parish’s water plant has a great deal of unused capacity. Therefore, the Parish, in a consolidation plan, can provide a potable water source to many entities without a significant fiscal investment being necessary. Furthermore, the infrastructure needs and capacity demands of some of the local districts can be satisfied through grants and low interest loans through the Department of Health and/or USDA which, for numerous reasons, will only be available as a consequence of a consolidation.

We have taken the first step in this endeavor, and I am optimistic we will be successful in our endeavors. Finally, I note that a rate study was recommended by both the Department of Health and USDA.

SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS
Sheriff Becket Breaux and I have discussed an arrangement relative to the placement of surveillance cameras at many of our Parks and boat landings. Unfortunately, we have experienced vehicle burglaries and vandalism at these facilities over the past few years. Currently, the Sheriff and I have reached a tentative agreement whereby the Parish will pay the initial costs of the surveillance equipment and his department will maintain them. Furthermore, the Sheriff will assume the responsibility for monitoring, in real time, the devices which will feature recording capabilities and license plate readers. The cost of the software programs and internet expenses will also be absorbed by the Sheriff’s Office.

PERSONNEL AND ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGES
Since the first of the year, there have been several personnel changes within Parish Government. We have reduced the number of employees at our water plant and as alluded to previously, replaced the Planning and Zoning Coordinator. 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.

TAX COLLECTIONS
I have evaluated the tax collection reports for the year 2020. I present the following summary and invite your comments and impressions.

A. Collections for Sales Tax District #1:
Total Collections for 2020: $3,060,823.91
Total Collections for 2019: $3.012,074.13
Net Increase: $48,749.78 or 1.6%

Average Monthly Collections:
2020: $255,068.66
2019: $252,600.54

Total Collections for last 9 months (After Date of Pandemic):
2020: $2,350,642.99
2019: $2,249,478.79

Monthly Average for last 9 months:
2020: $261,182.55
2019: $249,942.08

Monthly Average for first 3 months (Before Date of Pandemic):
2020: $236,726.97
2019: $260,575.53

B. Collections for Sales Tax District #2:
Total Collections for 2020: $1,163770.54
Total Collections for 2019: $1,295,118.35
Net Decrease $131,347.81 or 10%

Average Total Monthly Collections:
2020: $96,980.88
2019: $107,926.53

Total Collections for last 9 months (After Pandemic):
2020: $854,543.85
2019: $951,894.20

Monthly Average for last 9 months:
2020: $94,949.32
2019: $105,766.02

Monthly Average for first 3 months:
2020: $103,075.50
2019: $114,408.05

It seems to me that one can cogently conclude that COVID-19 has not had a significant impact on sales tax collections up to this point in time. The decrease we see in Sales Tax District #2 is no doubt the product of factors other than those directly associated with COVID-19 issues, or that the economic impact was simply more pronounced is that limited region of our Parish. Obviously, only time will tell.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, I do note that the District #1 sales taxes remitted in December were $51, 877.59 (18.11%) less that what was collected in the previous month. In District #2, the decrease was $25,144.12 (25.2%) from November to December 2020. Hopefully, this trend will not continue.

The hotel/motel tax collections for 2020 were $292,946,44 compared to 2019 collections of $272,771.41. This computes to a $20,175.03 (7.39%) increase. The monthly collection in December 2020 was $20,771.94 compared to $17,627.80 collected in December 2019. Because this tax is no doubt “seasonal” in nature, I am more interested comparing collections based upon particular months or seasons of the year. Also, I further note that our hotel/motel tax collections in 2020 were the highest since 2016.

Video Poker revenue for 2020 totaled $1,514,281,78. Last year, our collections totaled $1,473,301.35. Thus, our collections were $40, 980.43 (2.78%) greater than 2019.

Finally, we have received our first installment of ad valorem taxes. The amount was $9.60 million. Our first installment last year was $9.11 million. The second installment over the past years have generally been about the same as the first. However, as I have observed in the past, as regards ad valorem taxes, an economic downturn will be seen in delinquent payments. Hence, the next installment we receive will be the most telling since that payment will reflect delinquencies.

In conclusion, I repeat my previous remarks:

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.

COVID-19 VACCINATIONS
I have attended several conferences with state officials relative to the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines. As a result, I am reticent to make any statements about the vaccines for a number of reasons. The most prominent ones address the fact that the protocols are constantly changing, and the demand for the vaccines is much greater than the volume being released. Nevertheless, I offer the following data merely as guidance and with the caveat that the protocols regarding the vaccines are moving targets, and it is highly anticipated that additional changes will evolve rapidly.

At the outset, I wish to note that I am committed to providing access to Parish facilities for the mass distribution of the vaccines WHEN we get to that stage. Indeed, on Thursday afternoon, January 14, 2021, I met with our OEP Director and representatives from the La. National Guard and the La. Department of Health at one of our community centers, and we discussed the use of such Parish facilities as mass distributions points. I explained that our Parish is the benefactor of several community-based facilities, and each has easy ingress and egress points, and can accommodate both inoculation and observation sites. As plans develop, I will continue to present what I submit is a compelling case for locally and community situated points of distribution. Of course, the ability to staff these locations will be challenging.

Vaccinations commenced in Louisiana on December 14, 2020, during what is commonly referred to as the “Phase 1A Distribution Schedule”. At that time, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine began to be administered to healthcare workers based upon their direct COVID-19 patient interaction. The vaccine was distributed to those healthcare workers, generally, through their employers and at their care facilities. Moreover, the vaccine was further reserved for emergency services employees and long-term care residents.

On January 4, 2021, distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines expanded to include the population which fell into a category designated as the “Phase 1B, Tier 1.” In the State of Louisiana, these recipients are those identified as being 70 years of age or older, ambulatory outpatient medical, dental, and behavioral health clinic personnel, schools of allied health students, residents, and staff, end stage renal disease facility personnel, and home agency patients and personnel. The vaccine manufactured by Moderna is being utilized in this distribution phase.

We are advised that the next phase which is designated “Phase 1B, Tier 2″ should commence, at the latest, in a couple of weeks, the distribution of course being driven by supply. The persons within this category include:

  • Health-related support personnel such as labs and pharmacies
  • Essential governmental response personnel
  • Judiciary personnel
  • Department of Homeland Security personnel
  • National guard and federal intelligence and security personnel
  • First responders not covered in Phase 1A
  • Correctional officers and jailers
  • Medical transportation services
  • Homeless shelters and other congregant group homes and central staff
  • K-12 school and daycare personnel
  • Food processing and agricultural workers
  • Postal personnel
  • Public transient workers
  • Grocery store workers and other front line essential workers

The categories listed in this tier will also be prioritized in the coming days. Also, the population over the age of 65 years may be added and assigned a higher priority. At this juncture, I have little confidence in this listing remaining without significant change.

Phase 1C, which I understand to embrace the general population, is expected to be available beginning at some point during the late spring or early summer, at the latest.

Current Distribution, Phase 1B, Tier 1
As alluded to previously, the current population census receiving the vaccinations include the general public who is 70 years of age or older. This vaccine is currently being administered via specified pharmacies throughout the state. (approximately 210). A list of those pharmacies can be accessed at the website of the Louisiana Department of Health at:
http://covidvaccine.la.gov

The supply is currently extremely limited Also, walk-ins are not accepted, and it is necessary to telephone a pharmacy to make an online appointment in advance.

In St. Martin Parish, three (3) pharmacies are currently identified as having the vaccine available for the Phase1B, Tier 1 population, specifically those 70 years of age or older. Those pharmacies are:

Super One Foods Pharmacy
924 Rees Street
Breaux Bridge, LA 705l7
Phone: 337.332.6339

Bon Ami Pharmacy
2825 Grand Point Highway
Breaux Bridge, LA 705l7
Phone: 337.454.6536

Hollier’s Family Pharmacy
1456 East Bridge Street
Breaux Bridge, LA 70517
Phone: 337.332.5010

My conversations with the Louisiana Department of Health as late as Friday afternoon reflect that other pharmacies are being recruited to distribute the vaccine in St. Martin Parish.

Types of Vaccines
Pfizer and Moderna are the only two vaccines which have received approval from the FDA in the United States. Both require two (2) doses. With respect to the Pfizer vaccine, a second inoculation should occur twenty-one (21) days after the first one. As regards Moderna, the inoculations are twenty-eight (28) days apart. In order to receive the maximum benefit from these vaccines, it is essential that the two doses be administered. Only after the second dose does one get optimal immunity which is anywhere from seven (7) to ten (10) days thereafter. The efficacy rate for both is 95%.

It is my understanding that there are two (2) other manufacturers who will soon be seeking FDA approval. Those vaccines will require only one (1) dosage; however, I am unaware of any timetable as to when those manufacturers will seek FDA approval. Hopefully, it will be in the very near future, and once approved, the ability to vaccinate the general public will be substantially accelerated.

Cost of Vaccines
At this point, particularly as regards the Phase 1B, Tier 1 population, the federal government is absorbing the cost of the vaccine. However, vaccine providers may charge a slight fee for the administration of the dose. Nonetheless, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has declared that the vaccine will be administered free of charge to Medicare beneficiaries, with no co-pay requirements. Additionally, some healthcare insurances have also announced that there will not be an out-of-pocket cost for policyholders.

Please note that there are reports surfacing of scammers purporting to offer COVID-19 vaccines and treatment. I posted warnings on Thursday, January 8, 2021, about those scams.

Necessity of Wearing Masks
The fact that one receives the vaccine does not mean that mask wearing will no longer be necessary. The CDC advises that it may take a “few weeks” for the body to develop immunity after a second dose of the vaccine. Consequently, the wearing of a mask is still recommended until the public reaches the point of “herd immunity” which means that the spread of the disease has been controlled.

Previous COVID-19 Patients
A question which generally surfaces is whether one who previously contracted COVID-19 should still receive a vaccination. Present medical science demonstrates that natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last very long. Thus, it is the current recommendation that everyone receive the COVID-19 vaccine even though one may have previously tested positive for the disease.

Conclusion
Hopefully, the foregoing information will provide some insight relative to the status of the COVID-19 vaccines. In the future, I will attempt to post updates as the protocols associated with the vaccines are developed. As I stated at the outset, plans are rapidly evolving with respect to the receipt and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines.