Highlights from the Parish President’s Report of the St. Martin Parish Council Committee Meetings of June 15, 2021

By virtue of Ordinance Number 21-06-1322-OR adopted on June 1, 2021, the Council approved the creation of the position of Project Manager. The position requires the “manager” to perform professional level administrative work relative to various capital and operational improvement projects from the proposal stage through the final acceptance/closeout stage. The coordination of such projects will be throughout their various phases such as schematic, preliminary, and construction documents, bidding, construction, and closeout. The Project Manager shall further engage in ongoing and timely discourse with Parish representatives, project consultants, inspectors, and contractors. Work areas will include, but are not limited to, a review and analysis of project proposals, consultant and contract negotiations, and preparation and administration of project contracts in a manner to insure proper expenditure of project funding. Finally, the position will entail verification of compliance with and adherence to applicable laws, standards, guidelines, and regulations. Other tasks which will likely be expected of the position include the management of the canal spraying program, mosquito surveillance, and the waste disposal program, all of which falls under the Department of Public Works according to the Home Rule Charter.

Of specific import is that the Project Manager will be expected to provide regular reports on the status of each major project being undertaken by the Parish. These reports will be submitted to the Director of Public Words, Parish President, and each council member. Therefore, the items such as those which appear under numbers 2 and 3 of the Agenda for the Public Works Committee meeting will merely be a recapitulation of those reports and essentially for public consumption. Moreover, we will post such updates on the Parish’s social media.

With a Project Manager on staff, the Director of Public Works will have the ability to better and more timely address the day to day matters which warrant his attention. The Project Manager will no doubt provide the identical benefit to him as the personnel officer now affords the Administration. Accordingly, I repeat my comments shared with you last April which I first reported on this re-organization:

“This reorganization carries with it an acute division and delineation of the roles of each Director. Frankly, the “lines” of responsibility have not been followed (for no reason other than a lack of administrative personnel) in a structured manner with all too frequent “crossovers”, the byproduct of which has been the blurring of responsibility. Hence, our efficiency and effectiveness have been compromised and often important deadlines are met at the last minute and/or matters are not addressed as timely as they should be.

The natural tendency is to be concerned about becoming “top heavy.” Two observations are in order relative to any perception of being “top heavy.” First, a comparison of the organizational structure of Parishes similarly situated will support this re-structuring. Second, I invite you to examine our current organizational chart- the imbalance of which speaks for itself.”

Over forty (40) applications were received for the position of Project Management. Working with the public works administrative staff, twelve (12) persons were selected to be interviewed by myself and the Director of Public Works over the course of several days. Our final selection was Callen Huval. Callen is a 2010 graduate of ULL with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. He is licensed with the Louisiana Professional Engineering and Land Surveying Board as an Engineer Intern, License Number 34122. Also, Callen is a St. Martin Parish native and graduated from Breaux Bridge High School. He and his wife currently reside in the Cecilia-Henderson area. His first day at the helm will hopefully be June 21, 2021. However, his initial date of employment may be delayed a week or so to enable him to complete several matters which are pending in connection with his current employment. Indeed, his commitment to his work was a significant factor in his selection for the Project Management position.

It is the time of year which warrants that the Parish’s mosquito program be outlined for the edification of the public. As a threshold matter, it should be noted that the program runs from April 30th until November 30th of each year. Our current contractor was last selected in 2019 as a consequence of an RFP process.

Noteworthy is that our mosquito control program is not one of comprehensive spraying, but rather we determine where, what, when, and how often we spray based on pool tests from numerous traps which are strategically situated throughout the Parish. Generally, we have 27 such traps. In the past, sentinel chickens were components of the test pools (traps). However, commencing in 2019, the testing standards developed by the CDC and approved by the Louisiana Arboviral Sampling Standards Committee provide that no sentinel chickens or dead birds should be tested. Therefore, our contractor must necessarily be especially vigilant in the surveillance of the strategically placed traps. I communicate at least once per week with our contractor to discuss tests results relative to any disease detected, mosquito “counts”, and the assignment of spraying crews.

Essentially, therefore, we have a mosquito surveillance program. In our region of the State, there is simply no financially feasible program of which we can avail ourselves to completely control mosquitoes. Such a program would cost well over a million dollars annually and would no doubt entail aerial spraying. St. Martin Parish has no special tax or funding source for our mosquito program. Rather, we fund the services from our health unit fund. In any regard, the expenses associated with any mosquito program were particularly illuminated last year because of the numerous storms which struck the State of Louisiana. The only way mosquitoes could be controlled to any degree at that time was by aerial spraying. Fortunately, both the State and FEMA paid for the bulk of the aerial spraying which we were able to negotiate.

Hence, I encourage you to explain to your constituents, when calls are received, exactly what our program embraces. Mosquito control does not equate to mosquito elimination. That objective is simply not possible from either a financial or pragmatic perspective. As an aside, our program is equally, if not more, effective than that our neighboring parishes.

I also note that I have again received several telephone calls complaining about gnats and requesting that the Parish spray in the infested areas. This occurs every year and I am constrained to again note that, according to our contractor, there is simply no effective, comprehensive manner to control such pests. On an individual basis, however, I have been advised that there are sprays with a vanilla extract base that are reasonably effective. Also, there is a device called “Thermacell” which many opine works well.

Even though our Parish, and State, currently have no reports of a positive human case of West Nile Virus or any related disease associated with mosquitoes, the public should nonetheless adopt efforts to PROTECT themselves because, as I stated previously, mosquito control/abatement does not mean “mosquito elimination.”

After consultation with our contractor, the following guidelines have been developed for easy reference:

“1) Residents are encouraged to wear insect repellent, preferably one containing DEET. Always read repellent labels carefully, especially for usage on younger children. Also, try to wear light colored, long sleeve clothing and socks. Darker colored clothing attracts mosquitoes.

2) Repair or replace broken screens on windows and doors and avoid using perfumes or colognes.

3) Residents should remove any standing water around their homes or businesses. Clogged rain gutters and pet water bowls can produce thousands of mosquitoes per week and something as small as a coke can or bottle cap can produce a breeding site for mosquitoes. Remember, please remove any standing/stagnant water.

4) Avoiding mosquitoes at their peak activity times of dusk and dawn is highly recommended, but if one must be outside, please wear repellent.

5) Personal protection and yard sanitation are recommended and encouraged.

6) During the evening hours ULV Truck mounted sprayers will be assigned to spray within the Parish of St. Martin in an effort to reduce/maintain the vector population below critical levels as noted in the CDC Expanded Protocol measures. Spraying will be conducted for three (3) consecutive evenings in the affected areas, weather permitting.

7) The efficacy of the Truck Spraying operations will be determined through the use of Mosquito Traps and Landing Rates that are scheduled for operation and performed immediately following the completion of the adult mosquito control activities. The number of mosquitoes collected will serve to quantify the adult population and provide additional specimens to be submitted for retesting at Louisiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab.”

Furthermore, helpful links with valuable mosquito protection information are provided through the website of the Parish’s contractor at: cajunmosquitocontrol.com.”

Additional links are found on the website of the Louisiana Department of Health at: https://ldh.la.gov/index.cfm/page/1930.

Finally, please note that according to the La. Department of Health, COVID-19 is not transmitted via mosquitoes.

As background information, I repeat the following from my report last month:

“On May 5, 2021, I conferred with representatives of Pelican and Waste & Debris to review ongoing problems with their services. The conference was part of a regular review session which I implemented several months as a product of continued problems with the company’s performance. To put it bluntly, Pelican’s services have devolved since last year, not that it was ever at an acceptable level. The areas of performance deficiency which were “on the agenda” and particularly disconcerting, included:
    The unilateral decision of Pelican to collect bulky and yard waste pursuant to on-call requests despite Section 3.01 of its contract which mandates that such collection be twice per month.
    Despite the foregoing, Pelican would not collect the yard and/or bulky waste on the date scheduled when residents in fact called requesting the service.
    Continued issues with missed schedules for household waste collection.
    Repeated billing issues inclusive of residents being multiple billed and containers being picked up when residents were up-to-date with their bills.
    Failure of Pelican to respond to residents’ complaints and/or imparting contradictory, incorrect, and false advice/information.
    Quality of recycling.

The bottom line is that it had become, and remains, readily apparent that Pelican was/is not capable of adhering to the terms of its contract with the Parish. Therefore, on May 5, 2021, I advised Pelican that it was my opinion that it was not in the Parish’s best interests to continue with the contract. After further discussion, Pelican concurred with that assessment.

On May 17, 2021, I will again confer with Pelican representatives to discuss the mutual rescission of the subject contract. Of course, it will take several months to properly select another provider and transition into a new waste disposal program. Areas that need to be addressed in any sort of exit plan (mutual rescission) with Pelican include:
    Actual date of termination;
    Agreement to cooperate in the transition to a new provider;
    Franchise Fees;
    New residents and the acquisition of additional containers;
    Length of performance bond.

Also, I have had discussions with potential providers and the parameters of services which each is able to provide, and, of course, at what charge.”

Since that time, I have continued to have discussions with potential providers but do not have a firm offer at this time. Thus, Sellers and Associates, our prior consultant on this matter, has at my request prepared RFP’s which will be released on Monday, June 14, 2021. Responses will be due on July 7, 2021, with an award of a new contract on or before July 7, 2021. If I receive within the next week or so an acceptable offer (before the July 7, the date when responses to the RFP’s are due), I will most assuredly withdraw the RFP and request a special meeting to submit to the Council a proposed contract.

Finally, on June 9, 2021, I conferred with Pelican representatives and as result I should have commissioned the preparation of a formal rescission agreement relative to the current contract. In that accord, I am seeking a termination date of October 1, 2021, although, because of current market conditions, the rescission date may have to be January 1, 2022.

At long last, I have been able to secure a date for hazardous waste collection/disposal. The currently scheduled date is Saturday, September 18, 2021. Currently, we are meeting with the hazardous waste collection firm, Clean Earth, to select a suitable site. Potential locations include Parc Hardy in Breaux Bridge and the Public Safety Complex. The final decision should be made on June 18, 2021, when a representative of the company will be meeting with myself, and the staff assigned to this project. At that time, the representative will visit all potential locations and determine which one will best accommodate the collection process.

It is our objective for this collection endeavor to embrace many materials inclusive of electronics and old medications (controlled dangerous substances). The Library Board will arrange for the presence of a shredding unit to dispose of outdated personal materials which may reflect sensitive data.

The City of Breaux Bridge has agreed to partner with the Parish in this endeavor as was the case with the last hazardous collection date. Also, as alluded to previously, the Library Board is working with the Parish as is our OEP. Indeed, for there to be collection of controlled substances (medications), a law enforcement agent, in full uniform, must be on-site during the collection. In the coming months, we will commence promoting this project.

Last June, the Council adopted an Ordinance approving an intergovernmental agreement between the Parish and St. Landry Fire Protection District No. 5. The ordinance was introduced at the May regular meeting. Representatives of our Fire Service District explained at the May committee meeting to reasons why the intergovernmental agreement was critical for the Fire Service District.

Essentially, the Ordinance permits an agreement whereby the St. Martin Fire Service District will have the use for 50 years of a fire station to be constructed in the Town of Arnaudville. The facility will be occupied by both our Fire Service District Personnel and the St. Landry Fire Protection District No. 5. From its budget, the Fire Service District was authorized to contribute $450,000 to the construction of the new station and will have 5 bays reserved exclusively for its use. As was established in support of this endeavor, fire protection services for St. Martin Parish in the “Arnaudville” zone are currently dispatched from an outdated and undersized facility located in the Town of Arnaudville.

Recently, the bids for the project were more than the amount originally projected and hence authorized by the prior Ordinance. Thus, the contribution which is now required from St. Martin Parish is $650,000.00. The bid amount was not unexpected since construction costs throughout the nation have risen substantially as one of the consequences of COVID-19. Therefore, I will be submitting an Ordinance authorizing the expenditure of an additional $200,000.00 so that this project can materialize. Note that the Fire District Steering Committee has approved this additional expenditure and that the Fire Service District budget will support same.

This matter appears under Item 3 of the Agenda for the Administrative Committee meeting. As a prelude, I note that on June 2, 2021, I had a productive telephone conference with the officials with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The object of our discourse was the repairs which are needed at Lake Martin. The most pressing issues include the boat launch, the wharf, and parking area. The Department is committed to repairing the boat launch and wharf, and I advised that the Parish could undertake work on the parking areas. Moreover, I have previously committed to participating in the maintenance of the foregoing; however, any work by the Parish must be pursuant to an intergovernmental agreement with the DWLF. The attorney for the Department advised that he will draft a proposed agreement for my review. To date, I have not received that instrument.

Furthermore, during the June 2nd telephone conference, I discussed the formation of a commission to govern the use of the Lake. The Department must approve any such accord, and counsel for DWLF committed to sending a written list of conditions under which a commission could be formed and would be accepted/approved. A major component of a successful, functional commission, in my view, is the inclusion of a fair, comprehensive representation of those groups who avail themselves of the amenities which the Lake has to offer and the inclusion of property owners. This will a somewhat complex task. Nevertheless, the first steps are at long last being adopted.

Since October 2020, there have been in excess of 120 million dollars of industrial investments in St. Martin Parish. These include:

  1. SafeSource/Ochsner PPE manufacturing facility is under construction. The enterprise will yield 976 jobs in St. Martin Parish (1,200 total). It is the largest manufacturing project to ever occur in St. Martin Parish.
  2. The portion of Martin Mills which formerly housed Superior Derrick Services, LLC has now been sold to an online retail distribution center known as “Brew to a Tea.” The company should be in full operation by the middle of July. It will produce approximately 40 jobs. IT IS NOT PART OF AMAZON.
  3. Cargill Salt has undertaken an expansion of its plant at a capital investment of 34.5 million dollars. This endeavor ensures a continuing and long presence in St. Martin Parish as well as the retention of 70 jobs.
  4. Guidry’s Catfish Plant has just completed an 18,000 square foot expansion at a cost of 10.2 million dollars. The company will soon commence a 14.7-million-dollar investment which will include a retail component for breaded fish and shrimp.

I cannot begin to impress upon the public the valuable presence of the St. Martin Economic Development Authority (SMEDA) relative to all the foregoing. I am particularly impressed by the work and professionalism of Jennifer Stelly, the Executive Director. I have invited her to attend your July meeting for a brief presentation of what has transpired in our Parish over the last several months. Also, I am hopeful to introduce an official from SafeSource at the same meeting.

As I have previously advised you, I have attended several conferences relative to the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. 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 government. As of this writing, I have reviewed THE MOST RECENT guidance from the United States Treasury on the parameters of the program, and I have prepared a PowerPoint presentation for your and the public’s benefit. This matter appears under Item 2 of the Agenda of the Administrative Committee meeting. The materials presented will cover the latest guidance which was released by the Treasury Department on May 27, 2021.

As an introduction, the following are some key takeaways which I will expound upon during the 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.
*The remaining serious questions fall within the parameters of whether the 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.

Finally, the most pronounced point of interest is the allotment to which St. Martin Parish is entitled under the American Rescue Plan Act. That amount has been determined to be 10.3 million dollars, payable in two, presumably equal, tranches. The challenge, however, is determining what, if any, allowable uses are available under the parameters of the act. I am concerned that we may not be able to identify significant uses which are allowable under the Act.

Last Thursday, there was a NACo-sponsored webinar conference on the American Rescue Plan Act which prompted numerous questions. As I prepare this report, I am awaiting receipt of written responses to several inquiries which are pertinent to the circumstances which surround our Parish Government affairs.

Our tax collections continue to remain above the 2020 totals and most of the 2019 collections. Moreover, in limited instances, the 2021 collections are below the collections in 2019, and then only slightly. I summarize the collections as follows:
A. Collections for Sales Tax District #1:

January-May 2021Total Net Collections $1,477,986.92
January-May 2020 Total Net Collections $1,171,893.58
January-May 2019 Total Net Collections $1,282,655.71

Average 2021 5-Month Collections $295,587.38
Average 2020 5-Month Collections $234,378.71
Average 2019 5-Month Collections $256,531.14

B. Collections for Sales Tax District #2:

January-May 2021 Total Net Collections $503,682.12
January-May 2020 Total Net Collections $481,674.74
January-May 2019 Total Net Collections $543,568.63

Average 2021 5-Month Collections $100,736.42
Average 2020 5-Month Collections $96,334.94
Average 2019 5-Month Collections $108,713.72

The collections in Sales Tax District #1 continues to exceed our budgetary projections and are above the collections for the first 5 months of 2019 and 2020. Although the numbers for Sales Tax District #2 are above those for 2020, the same cannot be said for 2019, the collections being approximately $8,000 less over the first 5 months. Nonetheless, it is significant to note that for the last two months (April and May) the collections were $109,573.82 and 108,960.42, respectively, compared to 2019 when the collections for those months were $104,215.43 and $101,317.17.

The hotel/motel tax collections for the first 5 months of 2021compare favorably for the same period in 2019 and 2020:
2019 Combined January-May Collections: $99,368.35
2020 Combined January-May Collections: $69,049.18
2021 Combined January-May Collections: $91,969.12

It is my belief that the reduction in the tax collected during the first 5 months of this year, as compared to the same time period in 2019, can be attributed to the fact that the Crawfish Festival and Festival International were cancelled or substantially scaled down. I have no empirical basis for that proposition, however. Nonetheless, at this juncture, these numbers remain on par with our budgetary projections.

We have recently received Video Poker revenue. The amount collected up to May 31, 2021, is $1,039,911.42. This compares favorably to collections in 2020, which were in the amount of $626,970.32 and $783,323.99 in 2019. I have no cogent explanation for these impressive collections given the unemployment statistics. Of course, as all of you know, video poker revenue is an important part of our budget and has a unique “personality.”

I again conclude my evaluation of our tax collections with this espousal from my last report: “I postulate that we will continue to see an increase in our revenue for 2021 as we continue to positively manage the COVID-19 pandemic. Driving my thoughts in that regard are the stimulus packages from the Federal Government and the advent/proliferation of the vaccination program and accompanying relaxation in COVID-19 restrictions.” I have seen nothing to change my perspective in this respect.