Road, tax talk gets personal

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Public Works Director John Richmond passes quarters around the table at a League of Women Voters luncheon to bring home the point that should the new road tax pass March 30, the out of pocket expense to the public will be 25 cents per $50 purchase.

Richmond fields questions from League of Women Voters

By Juanice Gray, jgray@natchitochestimes.com

Roads and the upcoming election continue to be the hottest topic in the parish. The biggest questions: Where will the money go if it passes and what is being done to fix the roads? Underlying those questions is the vote.

The March 30 ballot for half percent sales tax for roads would generate 25 cents per $50 purchase made outside the City of Natchitoches or the Town of Campti. Those locations are exempt because they are already at the state max.

The League of Women Voters, Natchitoches Chapter, hosted a luncheon at Trail Boss Steak House Monday, March 18 with Public Works Director John Richmond as guest to address roads and taxes issue. President Delores Blalock said the LWV is a nonpartisan political organization that has pursued its mission of promoting active and unhampered participation in government since its establishment in 1920. “We want to provide a neutral environment to hear from candidates and concerns on all issues,” she said.

Richmond’s most profound statement of the meeting was, “Call us. We can’t address your problems unless you let us know there is one that concerns you.” He outlined the operations and issues with the road department, its budget and resources, in an article published in the March 14 edition of the Natchitoches Times. His address to the LWV was on a personal level.

Two members attending the luncheon provided information on their roads and the steps they took to reach Richmond. In the past, callers would state their problems that would then be put on a list. “I don’t operate by (you) being put on a list,” Richmond said.

Since he took the position in January he has initiated a new policy. “You call and we take your name and number. My goal is to get notified of your issue, go out and see your issue and then do the best we can to help your issue. We may not can fix it, but we can make it better,” he said. Richmond explained the business side of funding. “If the tax passes, that money will go into the road fund. The current budget is just over $1 million. That tax would generate about $1 million more. Our current budget for materials for the entire parish for the year is about $350,000. That would be an additional million to put material on parish roads.”

Richmond explained the tax funds could not be sent to Baton Rouge, cannot buy trucks for employees, cannot go to city roads or Town of Campti roads and cannot go toward labor. “It will be strictly for materials and equipment to get those materials on the roads. Attendees voiced concerns over large trucks, from 18-wheelers to cement mixers, that tear up the roads due to their weight.

Richmond said all loggers and construction companies must have permits to operate on parish roads. He advised the public to contact him, the parish council and parish president to report any violations. “You tell them, you tell us. You are the ones who can help.” He said to get proof of your claim by taking photos of overloaded or noncompliant commercial vehicles so they could be investigated. One aspect of the road department’s duties is often overlooked.

Much of the focus is on potholes and deep ruts, but the road department is also responsible for maintaining ditches, culverts and bush hogging shoulders. He said there are 17 people, including him, in the road department to cover 1,000 parish roads, 15,000 culverts and 2,000 ditches. Some attendees suggested allowing wildflowers to flourish along the roadways. Richmond said the department was all in favor of wildflowers, however there is a fine line between safety and aesthetics. His job is to keep the roadways as safe as possible.

Richmond also spoke on the way roads are repaired. It is not cost or time effective to repair small sections of a road. There is more expense involved by moving the equipment, set up and removal for small projects than large ones. It is more fiscally responsible to do a mile section, or close to that, at a time. Another issue discussed was the large amount of parish tax revenue going to other entities and not on the roads. Members stated this is where voting comes in to play. “When you see tax renewals on a ballot, be sure you understand it and determine where you stand on it. That is one thing the voter is in control of…. You may want that money going in a different direction. Just keep in mind that it is your money they are spending,” Richmond said. “It would be so nice if that money could be reapportioned, but as it stands, it can’t. The only way for things to change is for the public to vote.” Special guest was former LWV state president and current state treasurer Carol Deville. “We, I, want good roads as much as you. We want the people, emergency vehicles, school buses, commercial vehicles and yes, loggers and contractors to have safe roads to travel on.

Richmond said the number to call to report road issues is 352-2200.