Nathan Wilson | Journalist
City Council met Monday, May 23 to vote unanimously in favor of four ordinances, four resolutions and one proclamation. They also filed two orders and received a positive financial report.
Of the motions passed or presented, Ordinances 34, 35, and 36 and Resolutions 44, 45, and 46 warranted discussion among council members, city administration, or community members based on their expected impact.
The introduction of Ordinance 36 sparked discussions between members of Council and the municipal administration. It points to $250,000 in funding the city received from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) to help stabilize eligible households. The funds will be given to households as relief from their utility costs, although some initial restrictions on how ARPA funds can be used have since been relaxed. Individual prizes will range from $100 to $300 and will be based on household size and income. Households with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level will be eligible, so a three-person household will be eligible with an annual income of less than $46,060, while a five-person household will be eligible. with income below $64,940.
Finance Director Clarissa Brown-Smith noted that recipients should apply for the relief funds and described the city’s efforts to distribute utility assistance to those who need it most. “We are developing a scale of how much each family would be eligible for based on poverty standards,” she said.
Councilor Dale Nielsen pointed out that the city’s overdue account records could be a starting point for identifying utility customers in need of help. “We also probably have a list internally that, if we were proactive, could be reached,” he said.
Councilman Eddie Harrington asked for clarification that the city would not benefit from the funds. City Attorney Alex Washington responded that the program would offset the cost of electricity delivered to city residents. “Our intention is not to win financially, but to make sure we help the community,” he said. The ordinance is passed unanimously.
Ordinance 35 sparked concern from a community member when it introduced a $935,000 bond to refurbish sewer lift stations on Mill Street and Grand Ecore Road. “These lift stations are probably close to 40 years old, so they need rehabilitation: new pumps, new controls, new rail systems, new wet well lining,” said utility manager Matt Anderson.
Anderson explained that the city would receive $312,000 in loan forgiveness for the lift station rehabilitation and Washington added that the rest would be financed at a very favorable interest rate of 0.95% through the La. Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The order will be voted on at the next meeting.
The bond issue sparked concern from resident Debra Thompson: “Are we issuing a bond to raise taxes? she asked. Washington explained that the loan would be paid from the city’s existing revenue.
Ordinance 34 authorized the mayor to enter into a one-year memorandum of understanding with the Natchitoches Economic Development Alliance (NEDA). Led by Laura Lyles of the Natchitoches Area Chamber of Commerce, the collaboration will promote business development within the town of Natchitoches and the parish. “Economic development does not happen in a vacuum,” Lyles said. “The NEDA Board of Directors has decided to invest in a strategic plan for economic development.” The motion is adopted unanimously.
Resolution 44 proposes to address water quality issues for part of West Natchitoches by authorizing the mayor to advertise and accept bids to replace a section of the city of Breda water main . “This is another phase of water main replacement, trying to get rid of the cast iron and galvanized water pipes in the town of Natchitoches,” Anderson said. “We try to start in some of the worst areas. The places where we have the most complaints for dirty water. The places where we have the most leaks we return to again and again. He explained the gradual pace of improvements. “Several years ago, we tried to budget $500,000 per year for water main replacements, but with the recent increase in labor and material costs, that will likely be about $700,000,” he said. “It doesn’t go as far as you think when you’re talking about replacing a water main.” The resolution was adopted unanimously.
Resolution 45 was to authorize a change order for $6,000 for the purchase of a forklift from Scott Equipment. The original price of $118,000 was increased to $122,000 due to the seller’s surcharge to reflect increased material costs incurred by the manufacturer. Purchasing Manager Edd Lee explained that it was necessary to pay a higher price for the forklift due to rising material and labor costs. “We need the equipment. It’s been almost a year now, and there are still months until we get it, and we certainly don’t need to do it again and will pay a higher cost anyway,” he said.
Resolution 46 passed unanimously authorizing the town to be represented by Baron & Budd regarding the town’s historical use of firefighting foam products containing PFAS and PFOS chemicals. The chemicals have been used in fire-fighting foam deployed near the Natchitoches Regional Airport and are associated with persistent environmental contamination and negative effects on human health. Washington explained that the law firm would cover the legal costs if it concludes that a claim was justified. “Even if there is a recovery, the city will not pay. Payment will come from the proceeds of the lawsuit or claim,” he said. In the event the city was awarded damages, Baron and Budd would receive 25% of the recovery.
Ordinance 31 was added to the agenda with unanimous approval. He changed the budget to reflect the city’s actual revenues and expenses. Brown-Smith explained the need. “At the end of each year, we go back and see how close we are to what we budgeted for that year, so we try to stay within a five percent variance on expenses and revenue. If we’re not within that amount, we make an adjustment and transfer some of our budgeted dollars, make sure we cover our expenses,” she said.
Ordinance 26 passed unanimously to adopt the city’s budget for the fiscal year beginning June 1 and ending May 31, 2023. The budget included $19,369,505 in the city’s general fund, $40,842,500 $ in the city’s own funds used for utilities and $ 25,706,951 in the Special Project and Capital Fund.
Ordinance 32 passed unanimously authorizing the mayor to modify a lease agreement between the city and New Cingular Wireless PCS to provide additional space for the installation of a generator near one of the castles. city water. ,
Ordinance 33 passed unanimously to rezone a home at 403 Jefferson St. The home will remain zoned R1 residential but will include a special exception to operate short-term rentals of any of the property’s three units.
Resolution 47 passed unanimously to authorize a change order of $1,177,046.23 to $1,307,416.52 for Williams Equipment Services, LLC. The equipment is used for the rehabilitation of the first phase of Amulet Street.
Proclamation 43 was passed unanimously to declare May 31 Mental Health Awareness Day. Natchitoches residents are encouraged to wear kelly green on Tuesday, May 31 and are invited to attend a mental health symposium at 6 p.m. at the Natchitoches Events Center.
Brown-Smith presented the city’s financial report showing $10.4 million in tax revenue year-to-date. She noted the upward trends in tax collections and pointed out that TIF taxes on accommodation had increased by almost 100% in the previous five years. “We have an upward trend. I know I keep saying the same thing, but I like to talk when it comes to monetary income,” she said.
Council recognized the recipients of the Mayor’s Award: Phillip Evans III, Abigail Bevill, Shemaria Harris and Demarion Sowell from NCHS, Anthony Efferson from NPTCC and Anna Kate Jackson from St. Mary’s School.
Council also recognized the recipients of the Mayor’s Sports Award: Catherine Stokes and Caylin Demars from NCHS and Abigail Romian and Graeme Fidelak from St. Mary’s.
The Mayor also reminded residents that the Town of Natchitoches offices will be closed for Memorial Day on Monday, May 30 and announced the next Town Council meeting on Monday, June 13.