Parish Council forgoes more money by collecting fewer taxes

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The antagonism between Patsy Ward-Hoover and Chris Paige continued at the Parish Council meeting Monday with them shouting at each other and Paige pounding the gavel several times trying to quiet Ward-Hoover. But it didn’t work. When Ward-Hoover would ask a question, Paige would tell her she was trying to delay the meeting. “That’s enough of you,” Paige shouted. “Every night we have to put up with you!”

But that didn’t deter Ward-Hoover from questioning just about every agenda item with her saying, “I have the right to speak,” and she did. She continued to speak over Paige to get her point across when he would interrupt her. Despite their antics, the council managed to conduct some business. The council adopted a resolution to continue to levy the current millage on several funds and not roll it forward to collect more tax this year. The library requested the council to not roll forward its millage.

This article published in the May 20, 2021, print edition
Motel 6

Parish Treasurer Julie Lockhart reported that the end-of-year projected cash balances will be the following: General Fund: $746,944 Government Buildings: $364,270 Health Unit: $848,809 Library: $2,525,958 The council previously voted to roll forward the Road District 40 millage that will result in approximately an additional $26,000. The council approved hiring the consulting firm of Frye Magee and engineering firm of Schuler Consulting for the LCDBG grant for the Sabine Parish Waterworks No. 1.

The waterworks company took over the water system that serves Marthaville, Robeline and Ajax, thus requiring the approval of the Parish Council. The new grant will pay for getting water to 12 houses and upgrading 170 connections in the Ajax area. The council approved applying for another LCDBG grant for HVAC improvements to the health unit, old courthouse and OCS building. The grant money is from COVID-19 funds to update and revamp HVAC systems. The council extended an agreement with the US Forest Service for funding to improve the Kisatchie Falls Road in Kisatchie National Forest.

The council approved a tax exemption for Weyerhaeuser that plans a $16.1 million investment at its Natchitoches plant. The exemption for five years will be $908,040 with a review in five years. The exemption is only for the new investment and the company will pay 100 percent of taxes on the current facility.

The new investment will create 20 new jobs and add $1.1 million in payroll to the existing payroll of $11.8 million at the Natchitoches plant that employs 215 people. After a long discussion, the council tabled selecting a certified building official and floodplain administrator. Parish President John Richmond said he requested rate sheets and used them to formulate a tabulation of anticipated costs based on actual work performed during the first six months of 2020. He calculated that SG Inspections would charge $83,400; RAPC $102,915; and IBTS $71,820. In addition, IBTS would include a 50 percent rebate when a threshold of $90,000 in charges is reached in a fiscal year. That should result in a savings of between $15,000 and $20,000.

Also, IBTS proposed to have an inspector, at the beginning of each work day, Monday through Friday, in Natchitoches Parish. The company is the current inspector and has representatives here two days a week. Ward-Hoover was critical of IBTS for rebating the Parish $14,000 while taking in $114,648 in fees in 2019; and rebating the Parish $15,473 while taking in $122,412 in 2020.

She said IBTS should have given the 50 percent rebate in the past four years instead of waiting until it had competition. IBTS representative Larry Walters said he responded to the request for proposals just like any other company.

Ward-Hoover argued with Richmond about the proposals and told him he should have provided information to council members before the meeting. Richmond said he sent emails with the information to the council May 4, a statement that was disputed by Ward-Hoover. “You think maybe you just don’t remember?” Richmond replied. Parish President John Salter said he favored selecting SG Inspections because it is owned by local inspector Greg Lemoine, and the money would stay local.

Interim Planning and Zoning Director David Kees said there were no complaints “of note” about IBTS and if inspectors were needed on days other than Tuesday and Thursday, they were quick to accommodate. At the end of the discussion, the council voted to table the matter until the June meeting.

The IBTS contract expires June 30. The council heard a request from Derrick Turner who lives at 773 Hwy. 1220 in Natchez, to reconsider a decision that he must build a new home 7 feet off the ground to comply with the flood plain regulations. His mobile home is 4 feet off the ground at 105 feet and water did not reach it during the flood in March of 2016. He had pictures that are time-stamped to prove the water level. Turner met with Richmond, Kees and Walters to get the base flood level lowered but was refused.

A mobile home near his is at the lower level and has utilities so it must have been approved for the lower level. Walters said IBTS would not bend the rules because it would jeopardize the Parish being thrown out of the flood protection program. After much discussion, Walters agreed to meet with Turner, look at other elevation certificates he provided and re-evaluate his request. As expected, a motion to put a vote to the people on whether to repeal the Home Rule Charter and return to police jury form of government failed again.

Ward-Hoover, Salter and Paige voted yes to put the question on a ballot and Marty Cheatwood and Jim Kilcoyne voted no. Council attorney, Steven Mansour, said he had a question about the council’s intent since he believed it was not stated in the proposed ordinance. He said the ordinance as written simply informed the public there was a process to follow to repeal the charter but it was unclear if the council did want to repeal it. Ward-Hoover was critical of Mansour for not informing the council before the meeting and not giving them direction.

Mansour replied that the council had never asked him for advice on how to repeal the charter and he was always available to answer her questions, which he often did, by email. “I just want to be sure the Home Rule Charter is followed,” he said. Salter said there was no need to amend the ordinance and urged opening the public hearing that is required before an ordinance is voted on. Speaking from the audience was Wayne Halm who said the cost of the election would be $50,000, what he said was a sizeable sum. Council members said it may not be that much if the referendum was on a shared ballot. David Lewis of Kisatchie said he did not understand why certain members did not want to allow the public to vote on the proposed change since this country was a democracy.

Lewis said it was “OK” for the public to vote for the Parish Council members but it was not “OK” for them to let the people vote on the proposed change. Terry Taylor said he was against the Home Rule Charter just as he was in 2018 when there was an attempt to force an election through a petition that failed. “The rural people are the economy of Natchitoches Parish. I hope the people will rise up and say something.” Mansour reiterated that there are two ways to repeal the charter. The first is for the council, by a 2/3 vote, or four of the five council members, to repeal the charter and place it on the ballot for a public vote. The second is to secure a petition signed by 15 percent of the registered voters in the parish. When the vote failed following the public hearing, the council continued down the agenda.

The council also took the following action:

•Reappointed Billy Shugart and Michael Richardson to Fire District 4 board; reappointed Mike Marbut to the Fire District 7 board; and reappointed Bobby Outlaw and James Wagley to the Fire District 10 board

•Adopted zoning change to B-3 for restaurant sales at 1211 Patrick Road

•Adopted change from I-A to B-3 for gymnasium at 1386 Hwy. 504

•Adopted resolution accepting resolutions from Villages of Robeline and Powhatan as requests for road work within incorporated limits

•Approved donating Marthaville Community Service Center to Marthaville community

•Accepted bid from Terry’s Roofing and Sheet Metal LLC for $63,000 for new roof on health unit

•Approved entering into Good Samaritan cooperative endeavor agreements with Billy Garland, Old River Road and Smith Island Road; John Ackel, Cade’s Camp Road and Greenhead Camp Road; Marques Braxton, Marquetta Drive; Billy Fair and Joseph Brandt Perot, Johnson Chute Road. Residents will provide materials that will be spread by the highway department.