By Carolyn Roy, Carolyn@natchitochestimes.com
There was good news about additional money for rural roads at the Parish Council meeting Monday. At the request of the administration, namely Parish Treasurer Julie Lockhart, the council approved a budget amendment that should result in an additional, approximately $750,000 to be added to the highway budget next year.
The council approved moving balances from the Coco Bed, Fish Hatchery and Old River Road Capital Outlay budgets into the highway department. The money in those funds has long been set aside as match money for State Capital Outlay projects that were never funded or are so far down the priority list that they never will be. The action is significant because the entire annual budget for the highway department is about $2.9 million. There was also progress on the Bermuda Road project.
The council authorized Parish President John Richmond to sign the cooperative endeavor agreement with the Cane River Waterway Commission (CRWC) that will fund the rehabilitation of the road. CRWC will provide between $3.5-$4 million for rehabilitation of Fish Hatchery and Bermuda roads. The Fish Hatchery Road project is in the engineering stage and should start before the end of the year. It will start where Woodyard Drive ends and continue to Cane River.
The council approved the pulverization of up to 20 miles of roads. There will be public meetings in the areas adjacent to the proposed roads to discuss this road maintenance options. During department head reports, Highway Director Johnny Salard said his crew worked on 149 roads in July. The purchase of a pneumatic roller for the highway department will be delayed at least one month.
There was a request to add an item to the agenda calling for awarding the bid to Scott Equipment for the roller and trailer. It takes a unanimous vote of the council to add an item to the agenda and chairman John Salter cast a no vote. It will be delayed until the September meeting. The roller will paid for with a LCBDG grant from the State.
There was discussion of an ordinance on the agenda that was described as a way to cut costs. The ordinance was introduced to amend the personnel manual to change the job of council clerk from full-time to part-time. The clerk works for the council but is paid by Parish Government. Among the duties are correspondence for parish council members, compiling the agenda and taking minutes of meetings. The current salary is approximately $49,500 plus benefits and is a full-time position. There was a three to two vote in favor of introducing the ordinance that will lay over until the September meeting when there will be a public hearing during which the public can speak to the matter.
Voting to introduce the ordinance were Jim Kilcoyne, Patsy Ward-Hoover and Salter. Voting against it were Chris Paige and Marty Cheatwood. At the July meeting, Salter appointed Kilcoyne and Paige to a committee to look for money to put on roads. Kilcoyne said that after some study, he wrote the ordinance and thought making the job part-time would result in a savings of from $30,000 to $35,000 annually. Paige said that making the job part-time would impact the council in a negative way because constituents would no longer have a full-time point of contact. He wanted it known that the recommendation did not come from the committee because he was no longer a member. He asked Kilcoyne how he arrived at the amount of savings. “I used a calculator,” Kilcoyne said.
Paige said it was not right to change the job and there were bitter feelings in the community about it. He wants more information about how Kilcoyne arrived at the savings amount. After criticism from Paige, Kilcoyne said that any council member had the right to introduce an ordinance, which he had done, and he had sent every member a copy before the meeting.
Speaking from the audience against the ordinance were J. W. Scarborough, Harold Bayonne, Judy Daniels and Sylvia Morrow. Salter told them the proposal was not an attempt to address Council Clerk Sheryl Fredrick but was to change the job in the personnel manual. Salter said that when the job was created, several members argued for making it part-time but instead it was made-full time.
In other business, the council voted unanimously not to give tax exemptions to Martco LLC and Alliance Compressors. The general feeling among council members was opposition to the tax breaks, since they are always trying to find more money for rural roads. Cheatwood said the companies are so large that they would not leave the parish simply because the council voted against the tax breaks.
“They make tons of money. They won’t leave,” Cheatwood said. The tax breaks would have amounted to $85,000 annually for Martco LLC and $20,000 annually for Alliance. The companies had asked for 10-year exemptions. The council voted to roll forward the property tax millage on Road District 40 to get an additional $25,000.
The council voted not to roll forward the millage for the health unit, library, public buildings, exempted municipalities and general alimony taxes. There was a favorable vote on an ordinance to affect a zoning change for Family Dollar Store in Robeline.
Action on other agenda items included granting an extension for the finance department to accept quotes from insurance providers after the September deadline as required by Home Rule Charter.