Highlights from the Parish President’s Report of the St. Martin Parish Council Committee Meetings of October 18, 2022

TOURISM
On October 7, 2022, Laci Laperouse, our Director of Tourism, advised me that the Louisiana Office of Tourism (“LOT”) selected three businesses in St. Martin Parish for special recognition. The following is an excerpt from Laci’s message:

“I wanted to share some POSITIVE news..

I have made great working relationships with the staff at the Louisiana Office of Tourism and since have been asked to participate in a lot of FREE opportunities to highlight our parish. Literally putting us on the map! Last Friday amid the citywide garage sales and getting the media coverage it deserved, along with being interviewed on TV15 for that weekend’s events we were asked to participate in the gas station eats/no man’s land trail. It was a last-minute request by LOT, but we pulled it off. We were asked to nominate 3 unique businesses. Not fine dining, or your typical café, restaurant. I submitted Qwik Stop in Parks, Cypress Cove in Henderson, and Diesi’s Little Capital in Henderson. With this, the three picks will be advertised statewide on the website below, and our top pick (Qwik Stop) will have a professional videographer/photographer go out and film a short commercial!

Gas Station Eats | Visit No Man’s Land (visitnomansland.com)

Also, we were asked to be part of the Film Trail (see below). I submitted everything they needed. I also wanted to share her comment with you (see highlighted below).”

While the foregoing announcement is certainly worthy of being propagated, of particular interest is a comment from a representative of the state tourism department which I noticed in the e-mail chain which accompanied her message. Specifically, the state tourism official noted that Laci’s efforts in promoting tourism was “greatly appreciated” and through her (Laci’s) work, St. Martin Parish is at last getting the “recognition it deserves.” It is a great pleasure to know that our employees are making a positive impression on a local, regional, and state level.

HAZARDOUS WASTE DAY
On Saturday, October 8, 2022, the Parish conducted its second consecutive Hazardous Waste Day. The event was held in Park Hardy in Breaux Bridge as opposed to the Public Safety Complex which was the site of last year’s event. The number of units/vehicles which transported waste were 179. Last year, the number of units served were 224. I am surprised that this year’s numbers were lower since, according to Clean Earth, the Company with whom we contracted to collect and dispose of the waste materials collected, the second year generally attracts greater participants. Moreover, the location was believed to be more centrally located, and thus conducive to attracting a greater number of participants.

Regardless, even though not as many of our residents participated, the turnout was nonetheless significant, all things considered. I wish to thank all of our employees who were present for the event as well as the volunteers from the general public who helped with the event. It is a major undertaking which requires much planning and coordination.

Finally, I am especially appreciative the efforts of our co-sponsors: City of Breaux Bridge, St. Martin Parish Library Board of Control, and Waste Connections.

JUVENILE DETENTION COSTS
As a prelude to an update on the severe problems presented by the marked increase in juvenile offenses, I remind you of these observations from last month’s report:

“In 2021, the Louisiana Legislature enacted legislation which raised the age for juvenile offenders from seventeen years to eighteen years. Thus, any offender below the age of eighteen years at the time of the commission of a criminal offense must be handled through the juvenile courts. Prior to this time, the bench mark for juvenile offenses was seventeen years. Also noteworthy is that juvenile offenders cannot be incarcerated in a parish jail; thus, if ordered detained, the offender must be housed in a juvenile detention facility.

This “raise the age” legislation, coupled with an unexplainable rise in juvenile offenses, have resulted in an increase in juvenile detentions. Unfortunately, there are few pre-adjudicative juvenile facilities in the State of Louisiana. Consequently, juveniles must be housed out of state at significant costs.

These issues are not problematical for just large communities. Major offenses involving juveniles who must be detained both before and after adjudication is a problem in St. Martin Parish and numerous other jurisdictions. Indeed, there are at least four St. Martin Parish juveniles who are currently being detained in out of state facilities. The costs range from $200 to $400 dollars per day. That expense does not include the transportation costs incurred to transport the juvenile to St. Martin Parish for court proceedings.

I am not convinced that the pre-adjudicative expenses are the sole responsibility of Parish Government. I have reached out to Guy Cormier, the Executive Director for the PJAL on this issue, and his staff will be researching this matter. Additionally, on August 17, 2022, at the request of Mr. Cormier, I attended a meeting of district attorneys, juvenile judges, and sheriffs from throughout the state to discuss these issues. Although we identified common problems, there was no consensus on a viable resolution.”

The in-house counsel for the PJAL has rendered a lengthy reply to my request for an opinion regarding the responsibility for expenses associated with the pre-adjudicative detention of Juvenile offenders. Her conclusions support my prior supposition that Parish Government is not necessarily responsible for the detention expenses of every juvenile offender who commits a criminal act in the Parish. Therefore, I reviewed our expenditures for the last two years and note the following which is emblematic of, and crystallizes, the major burdens which local governing authorities are now facing because of increased juvenile crime.

In 2021, St. Martin Parish Government paid $9,500.00 for juvenile detentions. As of October 1, 2022, our expenses for the current year totals $63,976.00. As I prepare this report, there are currently two juveniles for which we are paying detention costs. One is housed at the Lafayette Parish Juvenile Detention Center. That facility charges $250.00 per day. The second juvenile is at Ware Youth Center in Coushatta, Louisiana, for which we are paying $145.00 per day. My understanding is that both are being detained on homicide charges.

The availability of juvenile detention facilities is limited especially for pre-adjudication purposes. During this year, parish juvenile offenders have been located at various centers inclusive of:
Lafayette Parish Juvenile Detention Center-Rate $250 per day;
Southeast Alabama Youth Services in Dothan, Alabama at $226 per day;
Jones County Juvenile Detention Center in Ellisville, Ms. at $205 per day; and
Adams County Juvenile Detention Center in Natchez, Ms. at $170 per day.

On October 28, 2022, I am schedule to attend a regional meeting to further explore all of the concerns engendered by this problem. Candidly, I do not see any short-term solution to either the increase in juvenile crime or the pre-adjudicative detention expenses.

CORONER EXPENSES
The scope of Parish Government’s many state-mandated financial responsivities embrace the funding of the Coroner’s Office for St. Martin Parish. Indeed, I refer you to Fund No. 221 of our budget. Over the last several years, the coroner has experienced significant increases in the number of commitment orders. A summary of those commitments handled by our coroner’s office reflects a total of 319 in 2020, and 330 in 2021. Commitments issues by other jurisdictions for St. Martin Parish residents (for which the Parish is frequently financially responsible) are 559 and 571, respectively. The cost of the bulk of those commitments rests with Parish Government. Although final numbers are not yet available for 2022, it is anticipated that they will be in excess of those for 2020 and 2021.

More disconcerting is the rise in those cases where the coroner must order an autopsy. Under Louisiana law, a coroner must secure an autopsy in any case involving the death of an infant under the age of one year and in all deaths which occur in connection with the commission of a suspected crime. The number of autopsies has increase substantially. Specifically, the number of autopsies which have been necessitated are:
2020: 30
2021: 34
As of October 1, 2022: 24

An autopsy must be performed by a forensic pathologist; hence, autopsies are contracted to third party pathologists. The general, though not exclusive, purpose or objective of an autopsy is to determine the cause of death, the manner of death, and the retrieval of foreign objects for the decedent.

The cost of a “full scale” autopsy is currently $1,875.00. Unfortunately, I was recently advised by our Parish Coroner that in the near future, the cost for such an autopsy will likely double. The reasons for the increase include the fact that the number of cases for which autopsies are legally required have risen commensurate with the increase in major offenses, and the fact there is a NATIONAL shortage of forensic pathologists.

As our current, past, and proposed budgets reflect, the amounts expended each year for commitments and autopsies approximates $200,000.00 annually. Factors such as increased drug use, he rising crime rate, and the increased costs of autopsies will likely cause the foregoing expenses to more than double next year.

I will be contacting local law enforcement, the District Attorney, and our Coroner to discuss this very pressing matter at a joint meeting. There are alternatives available relative to the extent of an autopsy which much be performed without compromise to the objectives of, and basis for, autopsies. Moreover, all of the stakeholders should be made acutely aware of the financial burden imposed upon local government as a product of carte blanche performing full autopsies when a lesser scale of one will suffice, the full impact of uncontrolled use of controlled dangerous substances, and the rising crime rates have a negative effect on public safety and the financial posture of local government.

I have discussed these concerns/issues with Guy Cormier, the Executive Director of the PJAL, and hopefully this matter will be a topic discussed at next year’s conference. Clearly, a collaborative effort is warranted to address all of the foregoing.

I would be remiss if I did not note that the St. Martin Parish Coroner contacted me to warn of the proposed escalation in the cost of operating his office. Also, each year he provides me with up-to-date statistics and reports associated with the day to day affairs of his Office. I appreciate his prompt attention to this situation. We are indeed fortunate to have someone serving as our Coroner who is as diligent, dedicated, and insightful as Dr. Degeyter.

HOME ELEVATION PROGRAM
I have previously apprised you that on October 5, 6, and 7, the Parish sponsored outreach meeting to explain and solicit applications for the Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program relative to the home elevation program. These meetings were preceded by the mailing of information regarding the program to every qualified property owner in St. Martin Parish who FEMA had identified as being eligible for the program. The outreach meetings were held on:
October 5, 2022, as 6:00 P.M. at the Council Chambers;
October 6, 2022, at 6:00 P.M. at the Cecilia Civic Center; and
October 7, 2022, from 10:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. at the Belle River Community Center.

At each meeting, both Callen Huval and I were present together with representatives from C.H. Fenstermaker and Associates, the grant program administrator, specifically: Gary O’Neal, Tonia Bergeron, and Willie Washington.

After the meetings, Fenstermaker sent the following e-mail to all persons who attended any of the foregoing sessions or who otherwise contacted the firm expressing an interest in applying for assistance:

“On behalf of the Parish of St. Martin, we would like to thank each of you for attending the meetings this past week that provided information about the Parish’s grant application for funding through FEMA’s Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) Program for 2022. For those who were unable to attend, this e-mail provides information that was included in the homeowner packets handed out at the meeting, along with deadline-related information and next-steps for anyone who would like to apply to participate in this year’s grant application for the Parish.

For those that wish to proceed, please make sure that the following information is submitted by 5:00 p.m., Central Daylight Time, October 20, 2022.
– Homeowner Forms (All are attached)
– Proof of Flood Insurance
o Four (4) clear, unobstructed photos of your home (please be sure that no portions of the structure are cut off in the photos), including rooflines, edges, and the foundation
o Front
o Back
o Both Sides
(Please make sure that no persons or pets are in the photographs of the home.)
o Three Elevation Quotes from a licensed elevation contractor
o The following are a list of several Elevation Contractors you may contact for quotes which should always be provided at no cost*:
 Davie Shoring – Tom Haralson – (225) 921-7414 – [email protected]
 Devilier House Movers – Blaise St. Blanc – (337) 546-0255 – [email protected]
 Patterson Shoring – Kim Reeves, CFM – (504) 481-5132 – [email protected]

*Please note that the contractors listed here have provided quotes in the past and have confirmed they will do so for your applications this year. They have done work in St. Martin Parish and throughout the State of Louisiana, elevating homes utilizing federal grant funding and are familiar with the needs of the program and you as a homeowner.

However, these are NOT the only firms available to provide you quotes. Nor is this list a list of preferred contractors for this work from either St. Martin Parish Government or CH Fenstermaker. You are encouraged to obtain your own quotes from your own research on companies. Fenstermaker is happy to answer your questions regarding this matter.

When you have completed your paperwork and have obtained the necessary information including the three price quotes, please scan and e-mail the information to [email protected] The Parish of St. Martin will also accept drop-offs of this paperwork at the following address.
301 West Port Street
St. Martinville, Louisiana 70582

You may also drop this paperwork off at the offices of C.H. Fenstermaker & Associates, LLC, at:
135 Regency Square
Lafayette, Louisiana 70508

If you have questions, please contact Willie, Tonia or Gary at (225) 344-6701, or through the e-mail address listed above. Our Grants Management staff is here to walk you through this process.”

I am pleased with the efforts which were adopted to solicit applications, and I am hopeful that many of our residents will received the much-needed and richly deserved assistance. Of course, I will keep you advised of all developments. The awards will be announced next May or June.

CLOSURE OF ZIN ZIN ROAD BRIDGE
On October 13, 2022, I was advised that the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development had ordered that the Zin Zin Road Bridge be closed. During its annual inspection of all off-system bridge structures, DOTD had discovered pile cracking caused by a cap unduly rotating. Huval & Associates, the Parish’s bridge engineers, immediately conferred with the DOTD inspectors and conducted its own inspection. The Huval engineers noted that the end bent cap had indeed rotated enough to crack its piling, thus presenting a potentially unsafe situation. Additionally, our engineers further observed that there was decay evident on one piling. None of the conditions were present during the 2020 and 2021 DOTD inspections.

The plan of action for the re-opening of the bridge is as follows. First, receipt of the DOTD inspection report, which will set forth all “critical findings” is necessary so that it can be studied and scrutinized in order that all of the concerns of DOTD can be assuaged. Then, Huval & Associates will further inspect the bridge with repair options in mind and then develop the necessary plans and specifications for repairs. At that point, we will determine whether we should proceed to repair the bridge via an emergency declaration or follow the normal bid process. I strongly suspect that the former will be the option, but will await final reports of both DOTD and Huval & Associates before formally presenting any recommendations to the Council.

ROAD IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS FOR FY-2023
On October 12, 2022, I met with several council members to discuss potential road improvement projects for the upcoming year. As I advised previously, for the year 2023, I have budgeted 4.5 million dollars for road reconstruction in Sales Tax District 1, and 6.7 million dollars in Road District 2.

By e-mail dated October 13, 2022, I provided each of you with the road scoring evaluation prepared in conjunction with the 2020 road improvement project. Attached to the report, as Exhibit B, was a list of the 29 roads which were repaired as a consequence of that improvement project. Exhibit C to the e-mail were cost estimates for alternative methods of improvements, with each method dependent upon the condition of each road and its bed. Likewise, in my e-mail, I requested that you provide my office with a preferred list of roads in your respective districts so that a final decision can be made as to the final list which will the object of improvements in the upcoming year.

It is my intention to prepare a schedule for road repairs over the next 3 years. I anticipate that our budget will permit an allocation of $3 million annually for FY2024-2026 for major road repairs. Hence, over the next several years we should be able to address all of the road improvements identified in the 2020 evaluation. I note that we can undertake this approach because of the voter approval of the one cent sales tax for road improvements. Furthermore, this methodical approach will avoid having to incur debt for our road improvements and maintenance.
Again, please provide my office with your “road lists” as soon as possible.

ITEMS 3 AND 4 OF PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE AGENDA
These items address granting approval of awarding contracts for pre-positioned disaster removal and monitoring. Responses to previously generated and published Request for Proposals were received several weeks ago and have been scored/graded. The proposals were extraordinarily competitive and reflected impressive credentials. For debris removal, Ceres Environmental is the recommendation, and for monitoring, the recommendation is Thompson Consulting Services, LLC.

After Hurricane Delta, we were forced to execute our current contracts with Ceres Environmental (debris removal) and Tetra-Tech, Inc. (monitoring). Both firms performed admirably. As reflected by the scoring and recommendation, Ceres Environmental again presented the best scored proposal, and Thompson Consulting Services has several principals who were with Tetra-Tech during the Hurricane Delta recovery. Therefore, I am very comfortable with these two companies.

ITEM 5 OF PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE AGENDA
This item requests the adoption of an ordinance approving of a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement with the TECHE Project and Floyd Poche for the installation of a floating dock in Bayou Teche near Mr. Poche’s restaurant. The TECHE PROJECT will install a floating dock at the site, and Mr. Poche will permit the use of a portion of his property for parking and access to the dock. There is no direct expense on behalf of the Parish, except for future maintenance expenses which should be minimal. Indeed, this endeavor is identical the agreement confected for the Arnaudville Pavilion/Dock project except that no construction will be undertaken.

The floating dock is part of the “paddle trail” developed by the TECHE Project along Bayou Teche. The current locations of docks provided by the TECHE Project in St. Martin Parish are Arnaudville, Breaux Bridge, and St. Martinville. The Poche Bridge location is the last dock site for St. Martin Parish. A site in the Cecilia area has been sought by the TECHE Project for several years, and the cooperation of Mr. Poche is greatly appreciated.

TAX COLLECTIONS
The Parish’s tax collections continue on a positive, upward trend as is evident from the following comparative summary:
A. Net Collections for Sales Tax District #1:
January-September 2022 Net Collections: $3,110,972.01
January-September 2021 Net Collections: $2,762,440.83
January-September 2020 Net Collections: $2,216,685.69
Average 2022 9-Month Net Collections: $345,663.56
Average 2021 9-Month Net Collections: $306,937.87
Average 2020 9-Month Net Collections: $246,298.41

B. Net Collections for Sales Tax District #2:
January-September 2022 Net Collections: $1,348,364.20
January-September 2021 Net Collections: $937,071.08
January-September 2020 Net Collections: $881,466.01
Average 2022 9-Month Net Collections: $149,818.24
Average 2021 9-Month Net Collections: $104,119.01
Average 2020 9-Month Net Collections: $97,940.67

The foregoing reflects that the average net amounts collected in January-September 2022 in both districts exceed the average monthly net collections in both 2021 and 2020 for that nine-month time period. As regards Sales Tax District No. 1, the January-September 2022 AVERAGE monthly collections are $38,725.69 GREATER than the monthly average collected in January-September 2021. In Sales Tax District #2, the January-September 2022 average monthly collections were $45,699.23 GREATER than the average of the collections for January-September 2021.

The September 2022 net collections for District No. 1 totaled $409,938.55 while the September net collections for 2021 and 2020 were, respectively, $296,438.12 and $259,591.50. You will recall that the August net collections were $437,998.88. These substantial increase in the last two monthly collections are, as I have previously noted, no doubt attributable to many factors; nonetheless both August and September collections reflect the largest monthly sums collected based on data I have examined going back to FY 2013.

In Sales Tax District No. 2, the September 2022 net collections were $134,315.81 contrasted to September net collections of $97,539.29 and $152.,940.57 in 2021 and 2020 respectively. As with Sales Tax District No. 1, these last two monthly collections, combined, are the largest monthly collections in District No. 2 since January 2015. I maintain that an analysis of tax receipts simply on a per month comparative basis can be misleading; however, yearly comparisons offer a better picture of the strength of sale tax collections. As noted in the above comparative summaries and as evidenced from the following contrasts in collections, our sales tax receipts continue on an upward trend.

In connection with the foregoing, I have again examined and compared the average of the first nine months of collections for 2022 with the average monthly collections for the entire 12 months in 2021 and 2020. This comparative analysis reflects for Sales Tax District #1:
2022 Average 9-month Collections: $345,663.56
2021 Average 12-month Collections: $309,495.52
2020 Average 12-month Collections: $252,006.17

As regards, Sales Tax District #2, the comparison is:
2022 Average 9-month Collections $149,818.24
2021 Average 12-month Collections $112,363.68
2020 Average 12-month Collections $95,507.00

I am looking forward to receiving the sales taxes for the last quarter of this year. At that time, I will compare the percentage of increase with the estimated inflation rate in an attempt to determine if the increases are due to more transactions as opposed to an increase simply because of higher prices.

The hotel/motel tax collections for January-September 2022 were $230,251.08 compared to 2021 collections of $196,837.13 during those nine months. The January-September collections were $33,413.95 greater that the first nine months in 2021. Noteworthy is that the average monthly collections for all of 2021 were $26,404.71 while the average collection thus far this year is slightly less at $25,583.45. Interestingly, the September hotel/motel tax collections for September are traditionally less than other months. The last quarter of the year will hopefully reflect an increase in collections which is usually the case.

Moreover, we received the state hotel/motel rebate of $172,179.00 on September 19, 2022, which is $65,000.00 greater that our receipts in 2021. This is encouraging.

Video Poker revenue for January-September 2022 was $1,598,344.54. Last year, our collections in that time frame were $1,347,081.32. Furthermore, I remind you of my statement last month that, “…the total collections for all of 2021 were $2,063,827.88, and for all of 2020 the collections were $1,524,015.01. Therefore, we have already surpassed the 2020 video poker collections. It appears that this gaming revenue continues on an upward trend which impels me to again note that our 2021 total collections were 35.62% greater than 2020.” Senate Bill 16 which was passed in the last legislative session appears to be generating an increased local revenue stream. Of course, the last quarter will paint a more accurate picture of this revenue source and a more accurate perspective of the impact of Senate Bill 16.

Generally, I do not comment upon our collections from Off Track Betting Parlors in the Parish. However, I feel constrained to do so in this month’s report in view of the fact that our OTB revenue thus far this year has been $84,735, while the collection for the identical time frame in 2021 was $104,833. This is a reduction of 19.1%. Since all other revenue sources, including video poker revenue, has not decreased, I must consider whether the Historical Horse Racing machines now allowed at OTB’s are having a negative impact. I provide you with these remarks on those machines from my last report:

“In the 2021 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature, Act Number 437 was enacted which legalizes historical horse racing machines for off-track betting (OTB) parlors. Historical racing machines (HHR) look and operate much like slot machines; however, in lieu of randomizing the outcome of a play, the HHR’s determine winners based on previously run races. On an HHR, one bets on the outcome of horse races just like he would at any Off-Track Betting Parlor or a horse racing track. The difference is that on an HHR, the betting is on actual past races, and when a bet is made, a race is randomly selected from a pool of nearly 100,000 prior races. Obviously, no identifying information, such as when and where the race took place and which horses and jockeys participated, is revealed. The machines are for all intents and purposes “slot machines.”

Recently, at least one local video poker operator has complained about the impact of these “slot machines” on video poker outlets. Noteworthy, is that there is a fear that those interested in gaming will opt to use the HHR’s devices to the exclusion of playing video poker machines. Of interest to local government is the fact that the HHR’s do not generate taxes for local government.

Louisiana has 17 off-track betting facilities which can offer these devices under Act 437. Also, the legislation provides that no facility may house more than fifty of the machines. Other key details of Act 437 are:
– Authorizes HHR’s on the premises of off-track wagering facilities only via dedicated machines or personal mobile devices.
– Limits each primary licensee or licensed off-track betting facility to no more than 50 machines.
– Instructs the Louisiana State Racing Commission to promulgate rules for and license historical horse racing.
– Limits the HHR commissions to 12% of all wagers.
– Requires the licensee to disburse 20% of HHR revenue to horsemen’s purses.
– While the state does not tax the HHR revenue, it is supposedly expected that the HHR will boost the horse racing activities, thus providing additional state revenue.

It is my understanding that West Baton Rouge Parish and Jefferson Parish have both enacted ordinances to limit the number of such machines in their respective jurisdictions. I am not privy to any of those ordinances, and frankly, I question whether a local jurisdiction can impose restrictions which are greater that what the state has imposed on such gaming activity. Also, I have not been provided any sort of empirical data which addresses the impact of HHR’s on video poker revenue or whether such devices impact the number of persons who play the video poker machines. Consequently, if you would like to proceed to address the possibility of any regulation of HHR’s, I suggest that you proceed with great caution. I have discussed this matter with the Executive Director of the PJAL who advises that the association’s legal staff is evaluating the concerns expressed by the video poker industry and may soon disseminate information for the guidance of local governments.

Finally, I note that the horse racing industry strongly endorsed this legislation which passed the House by a 84-11 vote and was carried in the Senate by an 33-3 vote.”

Of course, we will continue to monitor this issue in an effort to determine the financial impact, if any, of the HHR devices.