Carolyn Roy | News Editor
The Parish Council said no to participating in an economic development plan that could be used to leverage money for rural roads. Interim Director of the Natchitoches Economic Development Alliance (NEDA) Rhonda Reap-Curiel asked the council Monday to consider a cooperative endeavor agreement (CEA) with NEDA and laid out the details and financial costs.
She asked for $100,000 from Parish Government that could be paid quarterly. Parts of the plan included shared costs with the City for a master plan costing $150,000 and economic development strategic plan costing $82,500. The City has committed to paying $100,000 and there is a possibility Northwestern State will approve similar action. Reap-Curiel said the parish could return to pre-COVID-19 conditions or be progressive and move forward with the NEDA plan.
She said there are three employers looking to hire 200 people in the next 18 months. NEDA could work to present Natchitoches Parish as a possible location. The CEA could develop a parish-wide comprehensive master plan that will help NEDA decide what industry the parish could support and how to get it here. It will consider such factors as roads, land use, water and sewer and other infrastructure needs.
Parish President John Richmond backed the economic development plan saying it had been 30 years since a major company, Alliance Compressors, opened in Natchitoches. He said companies would “fall in love” with the cheap land and other advantages and endorsed a joint effort between the Parish and the City that could be marketed by NEDA.
“Steel Magnolias and meat pies have takes us as far as they’re going to take us,” Richmond said.
But the five council members balked at the expenditure of $100,000 for economic development although that amount is a line item in the proposed 2022 budget that is yet to be approved. Patsy Ward-Hoover said Parish Government had no money and needed to fix the roads first. While there was more discussion, the agenda item died when no one would motion to enter the CEA.
After tabling an agenda item about a dozer last month, the Council decided to terminate the lease on an existing dozer and buy a new one. It will cost $150,000 plus an additional $50,000 to return the current one to the lessor in acceptable condition.
Talk turned to damage of the roads when Council member John Salter asked Sheriff Stuart Wright if deputies were writing tickets for those who damaged the roads, such as log truckers. Wright said deputies could write tickets only when they witnessed the damage but he had alerted patrols to do so when they could. Salter acknowledged that smaller off-road vehicles also damaged roads and ditches.
At the request of Salter, Parish Treasurer Julie Lockhart said Parish Government still owes the Sheriff’s Office $295,223 for inmate expenses.
The Council approved budget amendments for the use of American Rescue Plan Act money to supplement money going to water systems. The money is not from the general fund. Those systems and the amounts listed are Bellwood Water System Inc., $130,000 and $184,839; Chee-Chee Bay Water System $11,600; and Waterworks District No. 2 $254,420.
There was a lengthy discussion about naming Cunningham Agency as agent-of-record for insurance coverage. Richmond acknowledged that Moorman and Moore had saved Parish Government $35,000 on each of two occasions when they found overcharges on workman’s compensation. But he said there were problems with the level of service. Joe Cunningham Jr. told the council that naming his agency would mean having a local agency to negotiate for coverage. There was no motion and no action. Moorman and Moore remain the agent-of-record.
The council considered another item that was also tabled last month, the purchase of a security scanner for the courthouse. It will cost $28,000 and be paid for from the courthouse building fund. Some $75,000 has been budgeted for equipment this year. What did not materialize was seeking a way to get other courthouse agencies to help pay for the scanner. Sheriff Wright said while his office provides an officer at the front door, there is a desperate need for the scanner.
In other business, the Council agreed to enter Good Samaritan CEAs with Jack Ingram, Eddie Perritt and Adam Lofton on Collins Road, Robert Coffey on Robert Coffey Road, David Ivy on Provencal-Vowells Mill Road and Larry Wade on Collins Spur Road; renew lease for Cox Lane Polling Place with Donny Whitehead; and advertise for bids for resurfacing of Bermuda Road with a bid date of Nov. 16.
The Council introduced an ordinance for the 2022 budget and will hold a special called meeting for the Council members and the public.
The Council adopted a resolution confirming the appointment of Eric Keel to the 911 Commission and one adding Brickyard Road to the Capital Outlay application submitted to the state.
There was a discussion with a former employee who was terminated from the highway department. Attorney Steve Mansour cautioned the Council against talking to the employee about personnel matters in public.