By Carolyn Roy, Carolyn@natchitochestimes.com
Hurricane Laura is not through with its damage to Natchitoches Parish. During a meeting Monday, the Parish Council approved two contracts that will have a huge financial impact on the highway and solid waste departments.
Contracts for debris removal could cost Parish Government $1.5 million according to a report from Parish Treasurer Julie Lockhart. The Parish Council approved contracting with DRC Emergency Services of Galveston, Texas, for debris removal and Witt O’Brien’s headquartered in Washington, D.C., for monitoring that only storm debris is removed. The costs will be partially reimbursed by FEMA although the amount of reimbursement is unknown. FEMA usually reimburses 75 percent but that amount may increase to 90 percent if the State reaches the threshold of $750 million in damages, which will probably happen because of the damage to Lake Charles.
But Parish Government must spend the initial amount before it is reimbursed. Also unknown is when the Parish will be reimbursed. Parish Council chair John Salter said he believes the $1.5 million could exhaust the highway and solid waste funds from which the money will be paid. Some funds will also be taken from the general fund. “We could be broke,” Salter said.
Finance committee chairman Jim Kilcoyne said that the $1.5 million is the worst case scenario and the costs could be lower. Kilcoyne said another factor that will influence payment of the fee is that a capital murder trial of two women who murdered a child by burning him to death has been pushed to 2021 and the $300,000 budgeted for their trial will be available. The highway department annual budget is approximately $2.9 million and the solid waste budget is about $2 million.
Parish Government sent out requests for proposals, or RFPs, and received three from which the selection was made. The RFPs that asked for prices on items such as types of debris removal, tipping fees, documentation and maintenance of records, work areas and hours, license and liability insurance, travel for pickup, hauling and removal of stumps, cutting partially uprooted or split trees, size of trees and stumps and more. Salter said he believed the estimates were based on the La. National Guard inspections after the storm. He also said he believed there were local people who could help with the debris removal.
In other business, the council tabled an ordinance that would have made the parish clerk’s full-time job part-time. The ordinance was set for a final vote.
Council member Chris Paige said that if the council voted for the ordinance, the Parish President could veto the vote. Then it would take four votes to override the veto. There was a unanimous vote to table the item.
Sen. Louie Bernard and Northwestern State President Chris Maggio lobbied for the council to rescind its vote taken at the August meeting to deny a tax exemption for Martco LLC. CEO Roy O. Martin III said he was unaware the item was on the August agenda because it was not posted on the Parish Government website. He has appealed the decision to the La. Board of Commerce and Industry and asked the council to write a letter of support. Martin said the Martco plant employs 300 people from Natchitoches Parish, has a $14 million payroll and pays $3 million annually in sales and property taxes on exemptions that have expired.
Parish President John Richmond said the company pays $300,000 in severance tax annually that comes back to the parish. Salter said it would take a unanimous vote of the council to put the item on the agenda. When Patsy-Ward Hoover voted no, the motion died.
There was a heated exchange between Terry Downs and Human Resources Coordinator Cathy Creamer. Downs and Jim Sandifer have been the agent of record for the health insurance coverage for 13 years. At the July meeting, the council authorized changing the agent of record, an action that was necessary to get information so Parish Government can move to being self-insured. Downs said he and Sandifer had no problem with the change in agent-of-record but they had the contract for the insurance that will not expire until Dec. 31. He said that since the agent-of-record changed, the new agent will receive the premiums for October, November and December. He asked that the council name them agent-of-record and pay them for the last quarter of the year. According to a copy of an email attached to Downs’ statement, the monthly premium for the insurance is $107,000.There was no action.
The council took the following action:
•Appointed Mark Swafford to the Fire District 3 board and reappointed William D. Musselwhite and Mary Motter to the board.
•Waived permit fees used for work to repair damage caused by Hurricane Laura that did not qualify for FEMA or was not covered by insurance; should total between $2,000 and $3,000.
•Upheld Assessor Dolly Mahoney’s value of property for assessment for Alliance Compressors at $25,847,867 rather than the Alliance number of $11,375,000.
•Adopted ordinance relating to budget amendment creating capital outlay funds.
•Awarded bid for pneumatic roller to Scott Equipment
•Entered lease or cooperative endeavor agreement that allows Hagewood Water System to connect to Sabine Water System as emergency backup.
•Voted down purchase of new loader under State Contract for $155,715.
•Selected Payne Subdivision II, Harmony, Goldonna, Blanchard, Bayou Derbonne, Pardee and Hart roads for Capital Outlay submission to State.
•Richmond said TESI is backing out of agreement to sell Payne Subdivision Sewer System to Parish Government but expects to be paid for improvements made, with no price listed.
•Parish Government will remove people it does not employ, such as port and tax commission employees and others from benefits; those people have been notified and can find coverage through an affordable Obama Care policy. The resolution also authorizes the Parish to have self-funded insurance coverage.
•Public Works Director Johnny Salard said the department usually works about 175 roads monthly but since the storm has worked 568 roads to make them passable.