Highlights from the Parish President’s Report of the St. Martin Parish Council Committee Meetings of October 19, 2021
RENEWAL OF SALES TAX FOR SALES TAX DISTRICT 2
I submit for your edification the following information relative to the election for the renewal of Sales Tax No. 1 currently scheduled for November 13, 2021. I encourage each of you to study these facts and disseminate them as you deem fit.
A. History of Tax
On May 19, 1998, the St. Martin Parish Policy Jury created Sales Tax District Number 1 (“District”), the boundaries of which were the entire parish less and except the corporate limits of St. Martinville, Breaux Bridge, Parks, Henderson, and Arnaudville, “as those corporate limits are presently constituted.” By Ordinance Number 02-05-0228-OR, enacted on May 22, 2002, the limits of the taxing district were amended to exclude the areas embraced by Sales Tax District 2 (the Cade area) which was created concomitantly with the District. Next, on July 20, 2002, the voters of the District authorized the Parish’s levy of a one cent sales tax ONLY within the District. The tax was for twenty years. Under that electoral approval, an ordinance was adopted on September 3, 2002, formally levying the tax commencing on October 1, 2002. Thereafter, the Parish funded the proceeds into bonds.
B. Boundaries of the District
As alluded to above, the areas embraced by the District are the unincorporated areas of the Parish as of May 19, 1998. Therefore, any areas which a municipality may have annexed subsequent to that date remains in the District and the Parish arguably is responsible for road maintenance in the those annexed areas. The sole exception is a small residential area which was excluded by virtue of Ordinance Number 21-06-1321-OR adopted on June 1, 2021. Moreover, the Cade area is exempt from the taxing boundaries since it is subject to a special one cent tax as Sales Tax District 2.
C. Dedicated Uses
The proceeds from the tax are specifically and solely dedicated to road/bridge construction and maintenance. No salaries can be paid from the tax revenue. Indeed, the pertinent language of the tax proposition reads:
“…to be dedicated and used for the purposes of constructing, resurfacing, reconstruction and maintaining Parish roads and bridges within the District (but specifically excluding employee salaries, wages and benefits).”
Hence, all revenue MUST be expended for road and bridge construction/maintenance within the District.
D. Revenue Generated/Number of Roads
The approximate amount collected from the tax is approximately $3,000,000 annually. The Parish has 759 roads within its road system which totals 389.81 miles.
E. Election Dates
The election date is November 13, 2021. Other pertinent dates are:
Early Voting: October 30-November 6 (except Sunday)
Online Registration Deadline: October 23
Absentee Ballot Request: November 9
The one cent sales tax for the District (and Sales Tax District 2) is the only sales tax imposed by the Parish. The only other tax similar in nature is the hotel tax, the proceeds of which are dedicated to tourism. As such, and in view of the number of roads which the Parish must maintain, it is obvious that the renewal of the tax is critical for the Parish to continue with any sort of reasonable road/bridge maintenance program.
Also, it is important to note that most of the public’s complaints about, and criticism of, road conditions address state roadways and not Parish roads. Also, because of this tax, the Parish is able to undertake major road improvements on a periodic basis.
In conclusion, please spread the word about the importance of this RENEWAL.
REQUEST FOR TAX EXEMPTION BY PEPPERS UNLIMITED OF LOUISIANA, INC.
I have received notification that Peppers Unlimited of Louisiana, Inc. has applied for another Industrial Ad Valorem Tax Exemption. The application was approved by the Board of Commerce and Industry of the Louisiana Board of Economic Development on September 24, 2021. The local ad valorem taxing entities in St. Martin Parish must now approve of the exemption before it becomes effective. You will vote on the approval at your regular meeting on November 2, 2021. The failure to act on the request at that time will be deemed an approval.
With respect to this exemption request, I have secured various information from the Board of Commerce and Industry (replicas being provided with your agenda packet), SMEDA, and our Parish Assessor. The data is condensed as follows:
The exemption in question would apply to $269,532.00 for only machinery and equipment. Specifically, the company has added electric forklifts and a double reach forklift as well as label printers for its production lines. Also, the business has installed new generators because of the recent weather events. According to data compiled by the Assessor’s Office, over the life of the exemption (10 years), the total exemption would be $29,309.98 relative to Parish Government assessments. Since the exemption is at the rate of 80%, the Parish will collect a total of $7,326.25 in ad valorem taxes on the said machinery over that period. The company would be obligated to maintain 142 jobs with an annual payroll of $6,847,431.00. One new job would be added at an annual payroll of $26,000.00. The job maintenance requirement is set forth in a CEA executed between the company and the La. Department of Economic Development.
You will recall that on April 7, 2020, the Council adopted Resolution Number 20-024-RS which set forth guidelines for the consideration of requests for participation in the Louisiana Tax Exemption Program. These include:
• Whether the applicant has complied with all of the guidelines of the State Board of Commerce and Industry and Louisiana Department of Economic Development;
• Total Economic Impact of the business;
• The total number of jobs which the company provides;
• Whether the firm is locally owned;
• The “type” of jobs created; i.e., full-time, part-time, career oriented;
• Emoluments of jobs which the company offers;
• Whether the exemption would create an unfair advantage for the company or an unfair disadvantage for other locally owned business;
• Uniqueness of the product manufactured or distributed by company; and,
• The terms and conditions of the cooperative endeavor agreement between the applicant and the Louisiana Department of Economic Development.
You previously agreed to an exemption for Peppers Unlimited on July 7, 2020, for equipment and machinery valued at $785.875.00. The total exemption was calculated at $23,286.00, with the Parish collecting $5,821.00. The project description submitted by Peppers Unlimited in that application to the Board of Commerce and Industry states:
“For Peppers to keep up with increased sales of its products we have to keep adding tanks to accommodate this. Tanks for sauce and tanks for mesh (peppers). A portion pack machine which is used to pack hot sauce in 7-gram pouches was installed which will be our 12th production line for the company. With growth comes adding more forklifts and upgrading old forklifts.”
I trust that this information will be of benefit and will be happy to discuss this matter with you. Please note that I strongly advocate the vetting of each request for a tax exemption pursuant to all relevant factors as opposed to carte blanche approving or disapproving such requests. Each request should be evaluated against the criteria enunciated in Resolution 20-024-RS and any other data you deem relevant.
At this time, I do not know if approval has been granted by the School Board and/or Sheriff.
BAYOU BENOIT PROJECT
As I previously advised, the RESTORE Act Council finally approved the plans for the Bayou Benoit Landing Project. All of the issues which the Council raised concerning the impact of the improvements at the landing on migratory birds and manatees were adequately addressed as we fully expected especially in view of the supercilious nature of those “concerns.” Consequently, we immediately advertised for bids, and on October 13, 2021, bids were received and opened. Nine bids were submitted ranging from the low bid of $187,237.90 to a high bid of $451,700.00. The engineer for the project reviewed the bids and found that the lowest bid/bidder was both responsive and responsible. Therefore, he has recommended the acceptance of that bid which will be on your agenda for the meeting of November 2, 2021. The successful bidder is Landry’s Construction Services, LLC. The budget for the project was $250,000.00. Hence, the low bid was $62,762,30 below budget.
It is anticipated the project will commence in late December of this year or in the early part of 2022. This is the last of our RESTORE Act projects. Nonetheless, I intend to confer in due course with our consultant for the RESTORE Act and determine what funds are available to the Parish under the act, after which we can vet other potential projects.
HOME ELEVATION PROGRAM
As I previously advised you, Parish Government will again sponsor a presentation on the FEMA program for home elevation grant funding. However, for reasons which are not relevant at this point, I decided to procure the services of another firm. Request for Proposals were prepared and published. Responses are scheduled to be received and graded on October 28, 2021. I believed a different advisor was indicated since no St. Martin Parish applicant has received any award through this program for the last few years, and I simply believe another firm may be more successful in guiding the Parish and its residents relative to the application process.
Any property owner whose property appears on the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP’S) Repetitive/Severe Repetitive Loss lists will be individually informed by mail of an informational meeting to be conducted at our offices in mid-November. Of course, the consulting firm will present the program and guide qualified applicants through the application process. If anyone has any questions about the program, please contact our Director of Public Works, Kasey Courville, or our project manager, Callen Huval.
I have prepared a revised purchasing policy for St. Martin Parish. Frankly, I am of the opinion that our current policy needs to be more concise and better define the process for ensuring that materials/supplies, acquisitions and routine maintenance projects which are below the public bid threshold are secured in a more competitive manner. Indeed, I want to balance quality with affording all vendors/contractors within our community fair and equal opportunities, without offense to relevant, current legal constraints. The preliminary draft of the policy is being vetted and I expect that the final draft will be ready for implementation before the end of the year.
The departmental presentation this month will feature our Tourism Department. Laci Laperouse, the Director of Tourism, will be present and give the Council and public an informative overview of the Parish’s Tourism operations. Since Laci has assumed this position, the Commissioners have been regularly meeting and a marketing analyst has been retained. On at least two occasions, Laci has been featured on KATC with Dave Baker and most recently appeared on KLFY with Gerald Gruenig. Needless to say, she has been a hit and is professionally promoting the Parish.
Most recently, Laci was instrumental in working with Apple Studios in arranging for the filming of a movie, “Emancipation”, at Lake Martin. The film stars William Smith and, as one would expect, has attracted a great deal of attention.
Laci’s ambassadorship for St. Martin Parish is no surprise to me and the Council as we had the pleasure of witnessing firsthand her talents, dedication, and hard work when she served as the Clerk of the Council.
PUBLIC WORKS CHANGES
Two weeks ago, our drainage supervisor, Richard Baumboree, retired. His retirement was accelerated because of an unexpected illness. Mr. Baumboree worked for the Parish for thirty-one years, being employed since March 19, 1990. Therefore, he will receive full retirement benefits plus he will be entitled to social security retirement benefits since he worked offshore for seventeen years. We wish him and his wife the very best in his richly deserved retirement.
As a result of Mr. Baumboree’s retirement, Mike Clay will transfer from the North Road Supervisor to the Drainage Supervisor. Kevin Williams has been promoted from an operator position to the North Road Supervisor position. Kevin is better known as “Hee Haw.” Our disappointment in losing Mr. Baumboree is tempered by the supervisory changes made as a consequence.
Section 4.15 of the Policy Manual which the Council approved on March 2, 2021, now mandates that medicare eligible retirees enroll in Part A and Part B of Medicare. This coverage will thus become the primary insurance for the retiree while the Parish’s plan will be secondary. However, a separate secondary plan, separate and distinct from the primary plan, will be offered to retirees. The cost to the parish for this secondary plan will be substantially less than what we are currently paying for retiree coverage.
The current monthly cost for retiree coverage is $18,706.68. With the Medicare carve-out provision and the new secondary plan, the cost will be reduced to $5,211.00. This computes to a monthly saving of $13,495.68 or an annual savings of $161,948.16. Equally as noteworthy is that spousal coverage which the retiree pays will be reduced from $357.67 monthly to $193.00 per month.
Finally, the current coverage parameters will not be substantially different with the Medicare Carve-out plan. I applaud the efforts of our Personnel Officer, Kim Duplechain for her diligent work is securing quotes for this new program for retirees.
In early 2018, the Parish Council elected to participate in class action litigation involving the opioid crisis. Shortly afterwards, the Attorney General instituted similar litigation on behalf of the State of Louisiana. Recently, two proposed nationwide settlement agreements were reached which, if approved, would resolve all opioid litigation against the three largest pharmaceutical distributors, McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and its parent company, Johnson & Johnson.
The settlement funds which total approximately $26 billion for all states will be divided over eighteen years among the participating states according to a formula developed by the Attorney Generals based in large measure upon population and documented harm caused by the epidemic in each state. Each state’s share is then further allocated within the state’s political subdivisions which participated in the litigation.
Attorney General Jeff Landry encourages each political subdivision to opt-in (agree) to the settlement for several reasons including:
1. The amounts paid under the settlement, while insufficient to abate the epidemic fully, will nonetheless allow state and local governments to commence with meaningful programs to curb opioid addiction, overdose, and death;
2. Time is of the essence. The opioid epidemic continues to negatively impact our communities;
3. If there is not sufficient political subdivision participation, the settlement will not be finalized and more than 3,000 suits may be sent back to courts for time consuming and costly litigation;
4. The extent of participation determines the amount each state and its political subdivisions will receive since approximately one-half of the abatement funds are in the form of “incentive payments”; i.e., the higher the participation rate in the settlement, the larger the amount which each state receives;
5. The opioid crisis is a national issue that warrants a national, consistent approach to its abatement; and
6. Other defendants remain in litigation; thus, the infusion of proceeds now will allow abatement steps against other defendants to proceed.
It is significant to note that St. Martin Parish’s share is .84% of whatever Louisiana’s share may be determined based upon the formula established by the settlement terms. Moreover, the settlement proceeds will be channeled into treatment and educational modalities established on a regional basis.
I have personally spoken with John Young of Stag Liuzza, the firm representing St. Martin Parish, and he concurs with Attorney General Landry and thus strongly recommends settlement. I will prepare a resolution for your consideration at the November 2, 2021 Regular meeting.
As you are aware, on January 1, 2022, Waste Connections will be replacing Pelican Waste and Debris as the Parish contractor for waste disposal services. The recycling bins to be placed at four locations throughout the Parish have been selected and ordered. Currently, we are still determining the most logical and accessible locations for the bins. Any suggestions you may have about potential locations will be appreciated.
On November 1, 2021, Waste Connections will mail flyers to all residents introducing and outlining the services which will be included in the new waste disposal program. These flyers will also be published in our official journal, on Facebook, and on our website. Moreover, representatives of Waste Connections and I will post video explanations of the program.
On December 1, 2021, additional flyers will be sent to all residents with the billings for the first quarter of 2022. Service routes and service dates will be defined. Additional social media posts will be published setting forth that information.
I am hopeful that the advanced planning will permit a smooth transition from Pelican Waste to Waste Connections. Both companies have pledged to cooperate with each other to facilitate the transition.
CYPRESS ISLAND SPOIL BANKS UPDATE
As a prelude, I reference my remarks from my reports on April 20, 2021, May 18, 2021, and September 21, 2021:
April 20, 2021:
“As most of you have no doubt heard, Lafayette Consolidated Government has initiated a study of a POTENTIAL project which entails the removal of spoil banks along the Vermilion River in St. Martin Parish. This matter appears for brief discussion under Item 2 of the Agenda for the Public Works meeting. In layman’s terms, the theory behind the project is that the removal of the spoil banks will permit water from the Vermilion to more efficiently flow into the Cypress Island area during major rain events, instances of high river levels, and/or the presence of tidal conditions, usually associated with storms, wherein the flow of the Vermilion is impeded. Then, as the concept is presented, when the water begins to recede, the excess water will flow back out of Cypress Island more effectively or efficiently. In other words, the Cypress Island Swamp is being proposed to serve as a “detention” facility.
It is my understanding that the theory was initially conceived by many associated with the Dredge the Vermilion organization out of Lafayette. Then, when the United States Army Corps of Engineers concluded on February 20, 2020, that the dredging of the Vermilion was not a viable option to address flooding in Lafayette along the Vermilion, the extant spoil bank removal proposition was presented to LCG which began an official study thereof.
On December 10, 2020, FOR THE FIRST TIME, specifics about the LCG study of this proposition were discussed with me and our Department of Public Works. As a result of that conference, I prepared a particularized memorandum, which clearly and unequivocally states the St. Martin Parish will not embrace any such project unless there is assurance that it produces no harm or risk of harm to any portion of our Parish. Since that time, Kasey Courville, our Director of Public Works, has engaged in discourse with LCG as regards the models, H&H studies, and plans associated with the proposed project, all of which are still evolving. In fact, on April 5, 2021, on the advice of Sellers & Associates, who has consulted with us on matter, detailed data requests concerning the LCG study was requested. As I prepare this memorandum, that request remain outstanding for the most part. However, on April 13, 2021, Kasey and Sellers & Associates conferred with the LCG engineer for the project and the Director of Public Works for LCG. At that time, it was reinforced that once all H&H studies and attendant modeling have been completed, St. Martin Parish Government will be provided BOTH the studies and data upon which they are premised. At that stage, the matter will be reviewed and analyzed by St. Martin Parish consultants/engineers.
Mayor-President Josh Guillory and I also last conferred on April 13, 2021, at which time he assured me that there would be no formal action relative to this proposal until and unless St. Martin Parish can fully and completely vet the proposition and conclude that it presents no threat to our Parish. Otherwise, St. Martin Parish will most assuredly oppose any attempt to remove the spoil banks.
I will again repeat what I observed in my memorandum from the meeting of December 10, 2020. St. Martin Parish Government will most assuredly work with our neighbors to address watershed issues. However, under no circumstances, will St. Martin Parish sit idly by and allow another Parish to direct water into our Parish unless we have been assured BY OUR INDEPENDENT ANALYSIS that there will be no harm to our residents or their properties. In the event ANY SUCH endeavor is attempted in our Parish by another jurisdiction, we will respond accordingly.
Finally, I have suggested LCG present this proposed project at one of our Council meetings. To date, that request has been rebuffed since it remains in a study/evaluation phase. Also, I have been invited to attend a meeting with Cypress Island residents and property owners on April 29, 2021. I look forward to meeting with them so that I can personally impart the position of the Parish.”
May 18, 2021
Since submission of those remarks, I have learned that Lafayette Parish has applied to the United States Army Corps of Engineers for permits associated with this project, UNBEKWONEST TO ME OR OUR DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC WORKS. As part of the permitting process, there is a mandatory public comment period which has expired. However, on behalf of Parish Government, I timely prepared and submitted the attached comment/statement/position paper which you may find of interest. Moreover, I direct your attention to Section III on Page 8 of that submission wherein I request a public hearing sponsored by the Corps on this matter. It is my understanding that this request will likely be granted.
Of course, we will continue to monitor this situation to insure all the Parish’s interests are fully protected without compromise to any watershed issues of any Parish.”
September 21, 2021:
“Since the sharing of the foregoing, St. Martin Parish Government has commissioned an independent analysis of the project by Bluewing Civil Consultants, an independent engineering firm. Mr. Alex Guillory, the principal engineer from Bluewing, questions many conclusions which LCG has drawn from its modeling of this proposed endeavor. Suffice it state that the removal of the spoil banks presents no threats or negative effects to Lafayette Parish; however, the same cannot be said relative to St. Martin Parish residents. In other words, the only jurisdiction at risk by virtue of the proposed venture would be St. Martin Parish. Noteworthy, is that Bluewing has, among other findings, concluded that the flow rate would be increased threefold by the spoil banks removal, and there would be increased and undefined risks of localized flooding.
On August 30, 2021, the United States Army Corps of Engineers advised that LCG had requested that its proposed project be divided into two separated projects-one for the removal of the spoil banks in Lafayette Parish and the other for the spoil banks work in St. Martin Parish. At that time, I took the opportunity to supplement my prior submission to the Corps advising that agency of the adoption of Ordinance Number 21-07-1336-OR by the Council on July 6, 2021. This is the edict which amends the Parish’s floodplain ordinance to require that Council approval is necessary for any development or project which embraces the removal of any sort of levee system. A replica of that supplemental submission to the Corps is appended for your reference.
I am in the process of arranging for a personal meeting with Mayor-President Josh Guillory and other LCG officials to advise them of my formal position on this issue. I have vetted the proposal, and as Parish President cannot, and do not, endorse any action which presents an undue and unnecessary risk to St. Martin Parish residents. At this stage, after I confer with LCG, it is my belief that a formal announcement to that effect should be disseminated.”
On October 14, 2021, I met with Mayor-President Guillory and several members of his staff. At that time, he confirmed that LCG is no longer pursuing the spoil bank removal project in St. Martin Parish AT THIS TIME. LCG’s permit application was withdrawn. However, Guillory was adamant that the project would be of great benefit both St. Martin and Lafayette Parishes. Moreover, we learned at that meeting that he had commissioned another model/study which took into consideration the impacts of the spoil banks removal in conjunction with several of projects wholly within Lafayette Parish.
In all candor, I do not accept LCG’s argument that the spoil bank removal proposition would introduce no enhanced risks for St. Martin Parish. However, I agreed to having our engineer review the additional model(s) and report which Guillory referenced in our meeting of October 14, 2021. I am certain that those additional studies will be provided to the Parish. Nonetheless, the application for the Corps permit has been withdrawn AND St. Martin Parish’s position remains unchanged as regards the fact that we will vigorously oppose any actions which imposes a risk to our citizens.
AUDIT FOR FY ENDED DECEMBER 31, 2020
Last year’s audit has been completed and will be presented by our Auditor, Charles “Chip” Maraist, under Item 2 of the Agenda for the Administrative/Finance Committee meeting. The complete audit has been provided to you, and I request that you take the opportunity to review it in preparation for the meeting. There were no adverse findings except relative to Sales Tax District #2 whereby belated “progress billing” for many of the construction projects for that year caused a 5% deviation in budgeted expenses. Of course, measures will be taken in the future to prevent this minor issue from surfacing.
The audit again reflects that the financial position of the Parish remains stable and is free from any material issue. Nonetheless, I again request that each of you review the audit with a discerning eye.
FY 2022 BUDGET
The proposed FY 2022 Budget was presented to you at the regular meeting of October 5, 2021. I remain prepared to confer with any of you to answer or explain any line item about which you may have any questions or problems. You should note that several new funds have been created because of the allocations of Section 603 of the American Rescue Plan Act and the library millage rededication.
SPECIAL MEETING AGENDA
After the meeting of October 5, 2021, Todd Dugas, our assessor contacted my office and discussed some technical concerns about the resolution which the Council adopted denying the appeal of Pilot Travel Centers, LLC. The appeal documents prepared by the business challenged the “Fair Market Value” of the property at issue in the assessment challenge. However, technically, the challenge addresses the “Assessed Value” of the property. Mr. Dugas was concerned that further proceedings before the Tax Commission could be confusing.
Although the assessed value of the property is based upon its fair market value, I certainly appreciate Mr. Dugas’ concerns. Therefore, working with him, I prepared Resolution Number 21-085-RS which clarifies the action taken by the Council at your October regular meeting as regards accepting Mr. Dugas’ assessed value and thus rejecting the appeal of Pilot Travel Centers.
The September tax collections in Sales Tax District #1 were $296,438.12. Although this is less than the amount collected in the last two months, it is nonetheless greater than any other “September” collection since 2012, except for 2018 and 2014. This 2021 September collection compares to $259,591.50 in 2020, and $238,774.20 in 2019. The strength of our sales tax collection, while remaining unexpectedly strong, must be evaluated considering bleak economic forecasts which include continued inflation and a potential recession. Rising prices and limited supply chains are certainly indicators which warrant close scrutiny of our finances.
The net collections in Sales Tax District #2 for last month were off from previous months. The net collected for September was $97,539.29. This is less than the collections in September 2019 and 2020 which were, respectively, $100,151.77 and $152,940.57.
As I have done for each month this year, I summarize for reference the collections thus far this year as follows:
A. Collections for Sales Tax District #1:
January-September 2021Total Net Collections: $2,762,440.83
January-September 2020 Total Net Collections: $2,216,685.69
January-September 2019 Total Net Collections: $2,276,360.21
Average 2021 9-Month Net Collections: $306,937.87
Average 2020 9-Month Net Collections: $246,298.41
Average 2019 9-Month Net Collections: $252,928.91
B. Collections for Sales Tax District #2:
January-September 2021 Total Net Collections: $937,071.08
January-September 2020 Total Net Collections: $881,466.01
January-September 2019 Total Net Collections: $970,306.95
Average 2021 9-Month Net Collections: $104,119.00
Average 2020 9-Month Net Collections: $97,940.66
Average 2019 9-Month Net Collections: $107,811.88
The hotel/motel tax collections for September were only $19,232.31 compared to $33,992.35 in 2020, and $25,644.92 in 2019. At this point, I have no cogent explanation as to the reasons for the marked reduction in collections. I anticipate it may simply be a remittance issue which I will most assuredly evaluate upon receipt of October collections. Nonetheless, as I have noted in previous reports, an evaluation of receipts over a period portrays a better basis for projections especially as regards hotel/motel collections. Thus, I note that the first 9 months of collections in 2021compare very favorably with those during the same period in 2019 and 2020:
2019 Combined January-September Collections: $189,627.54
2020 Combined January-September Collections: $182,209.13
2021 Combined January-September Collections: $214,159.55
As with the sales tax collections, I again ponder the impact of weather events outside our region on local hotel/motel activity in our Parish. I reference the number of workers and displaced residents who have availed themselves of our local facilities.
For a third consecutive month, I have no collection reports for video poker. This is not unusual. However, our severance tax collections for 2021, as noted last month, are slightly over one million dollars. Our budget was for $900,000.