Partnership Proclamation – Looking ahead at 2021: Concerns still high for trash collection and road repairs

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By Juanice Gray, jgray@natchitochestimes.com

The Parish Council makes decisions that affect the residents of the parish, but none hit home more so than roads. Roads were again the primary discussion at the Dec. 21 meeting. A partnership with the School Board, parish towns and villages, fire districts and others could give the parish government the fuel it needs to request funding.

School Board President Billy Benefield and member the Rev. Steven Harris presented a proclamation citing the dangerous conditions and detrimental effect the roads have on school buses, emergency and private vehicles. The proclamation on repairing the roads could be presented to state and federal officials to plea for funding Benefield said. “They came in unity for one common goal,” Councilman Marty Cheatwood said. “That is a good partnership to help put senators and representatives in Baton Rouge in line to get some money.”

This discussion was soon followed by an ordinance to place a 10-year, 1% sales tax on the April ballot. This tax is also related to roads because it funds not only solid waste collection but road improvements as well. It will be on the ballot as a new tax simply because it is not a renewal, although residents have been paying the tax for decades. The current 10-year tax expires Dec. 31 and was not put on the ballot in a timely manner. Even without the dedicated funding from the sales tax, solid waste collection will continue from Jan. 1-July 1 when, if the tax passes in April, the sales tax will again fund the service.

The cost for those six months is $1 million and will be paid by using revenue already collected, plus $500,000 that was transferred to the road fund from sales tax recently, has been put back in solid waste t o keep it operating according to Finance Director Julie Lockhart. She said additional cuts, including $200,000 reduction in equipment and other areas will be necessary to keep trash collection operating. She said there are 44 people representing $654,000 in salaries, employed in these services. She said projected funding to start 2021 is $1.6 million.

“That is money available to fund solid waste. We have one more distribution from the tax commission to come in,” she said. The cost of putting the tax on the ballot is estimated at $40-50,000, but could be less if there are more items to vote on in that election whereby the cost could be split. “The budget amendment is under the assumption the tax will pass,” Lockhart said. “If it doesn’t, there will be more cuts.”

For the next six months, the road fund will not get a piece of that sales tax pie since none will be collected. Yet another reason council members are pleading for the tax to pass in April. This is a good time to take a look at where the road funds actually go.

Road districts coincide with council districts. They are Dist. 1, Chris Paige; Dist. 2, Patsy Ward-Hoover; and Dist. 3, Jim Kilcoyne (all mainly City of Natchitoches); Dist. 4, Marty Cheatwood; and Dist. 5, John Salter (mainly rural areas).

(See map)

In November, 120 road jobs were completed in the parish at a cost of $164,849.54. Of those, two jobs were in Dist. 1, 11 in Dist. 2, seven in Dist. 3, 58 in Dist. 4 and 42 in Dist. 5.

A breakdown of road jobs shows that in Dist. 1, repairing a washout on Rex Waterwell Road and adding road base mix to Payne Drive cost $961.31 in equipment, materials and labor.

In Dist. 2, the 11 projects ranged from installing road signs on St. Charles Street to spot grading on Lateral Lane and patches on Bermuda Road, Melle Street and Cedar Bend. Total cost was $9,961.60.

The seven jobs in Dist. 3 consisted of road signs on Franklin Lane, Plantation Point and Independence Street, patches on Williams Avenue Extension and Hargis Road and adding road base mix on American Way and Independence. Total cost was $2,596.32.

In Dist. 4, jobs ranged from adding base material to blading roads and from installing culverts to cleaning beaver dams. There were 48.6 miles of roads bladed, graded and/or ditched. The 58 jobs totaled $114,962.24.

Parish President John Richmond speaks with a group from District 5 about the road conditions in their area. Photos by Juanice Gray

In Dist. 5, projects ranged from ditching to grading, repairing washouts and patching. There were 36.5 miles bladed, graded and/or ditched. The 42 jobs cost $36,368.07.

A complete breakdown of all jobs can be found below: