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Council Oks new driver’s license bureau

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / October 19, 1998

LAPLACE – Economic development issues dominated the Oct. 13 meeting ofthe St. John Parish Council, as the body approved projects aimed atcommunity growth.

First up, the state Office of Motor Vehicles asked for the parish to construct what is planned as the first full-service office in the River Parishes.

The new 3,000-square-foot, $200,000 office would also replace that at the St. John Service Center, located at the corner of Main Street andAirline Highway in LaPlace.

“It’s filthy!” complained Parish Councilman Perry Bailey of the present office, adding the carpet needed to be either cleaned or removed.

Since 1946, every parish has a driver’s license office, according to John K.

Dowd, special assistant to the Motor Vehicle Commissioner. 19 of thoseoffices are considered “full-service” offices, with many services provided which are not available in all offices.

Dowd pointed out while average income for driver’s license office have, since 1992, increased by 5 percent, in St. John Parish, it’s closer to a 60percent increase.

“This would be the only full-service center in the River Parishes,” Parish President Arnold Labat said.

Some parish council members, however, expressed doubt over the immediate need for the parish to build a building for the state to lease, using tax revenue from the parish’s economic development tax.

Parish Councilman Duaine Duffy pointed out the state government has not been accommodating with the local ferry service or with keeping the grass cut on their highways, but now it wants the parish to build them a building.

Parish Councilman Steve Thornton, likewise, said the office could be put into the old Baker-Heritage building in Reserve, a similar building constructed by the parish for a tenant. However, in that case, the companywent into a deep depression and moved out, owing rent.

“There are so many other needs our citizens are demanding of us,” Bailey pointed out.

Parish Councilman Joel McTopy, though, pointed out the parish has “projects we lose money on, year after year…big money.”He added, “Yeah, it’s gonna cost some money, but that’s why we have the tax in the first place.”The matter was approved 7-2, with a stipulation that the driver’s license office occupy the building at least 10 years. Duffy and Bailey votedagainst it.

The other economic development project was a feasibility study for a new auto racetrack, to be tentatively located in Reserve, north of Airline Highway.

Steve Nosacka, a Baton Rouge financial advisor, and Parish Councilman Ranney Wilson asked for the parish to finance a $12,500 feasibility study for the project, paid for out of economic development tax revenue.

Labat voiced his support for the project, and said it would generate more hotel and restaurant business. “I think it would be money well spent,” hesaid, adding it could produce 80-90 direct jobs.

Thornton, however, expressed his concern of spending public money on a private development. To accommodate his concern, the Parish Councilasked for the study to not be site-specific, which could be used as a marketing tool the parish would own, even if the project itself never came to fruition.

“If it’s not site-specific, then what good is it?” Thornton commented later.

The study was approved by an 8-1 vote, with Thornton voting against it.

Also related to economic development, the Parish Council approved resolutions making official requests for Capital Outlay Funds for two major project in St. John Parish. These are $1.5 million for the plannedAvenue of the Americas, connecting Globalplex with Interstate 10, and $2 million for expansion and improvements to St. John Airport.Finally, action was tabled on the possible purchase of the Peavine Road boat launch area.

The property, 25,423 square feet, is presently owned by Rep. BobbyFaucheux and Gary and Marion Keating, and a portion is leased to the parish for the boat launch and parking at $1,000 per year.

However, after the parish was late in its lease payment due to confusion as to who would receive the check, suit was filed in May by the owners against the parish for violating the lease, according to Administrative Officer Pat McTopy.

Despite two attempts to send the check, Keating’s only reply was to declare the lease was terminated.

Therefore, the parish opened negotiations to purchase the property for $65,000, the appraised value, McTopy said. “It’s a very important piece ofproperty,” he said, adding that unless the parish bought the property, boat launch users would be forced to illegally park on the shoulder of Peavine Road.

McTopy, during a finance meeting prior to the regular council meeting, declared his opposition to the deal, saying the sheriff should then enforce the no-parking laws. “Let him worry about re-election then,” McTopy said.Later, McTopy reluctantly changed his mind, and commented, “I wish it hadn’t happened that way. When I first heard about it, I was awfullyaggravated.”He continued that when he first heard about it, his first perceptions were that the parish was “being held up” and that the parish would be “buying swampland.” However, he considered the hundreds of thousands of dollarsof improvements made by the parish at the site and found he could not walk away from that investment for the public good.

“It tears my gut up,” he concluded. “We’ve got to do it, or we’ve thrown alot of money away.”The Parish Council approved discussing the matter in executive session at its next regular meeting on Oct. 27.

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