Water system improvements Oked; land sale put off

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 18, 1999

ERIK SANZENBACH / L’Observateur / October 18, 1999

LAPLACE – St. John the Baptist Parish Council voted in $3.5 million forwater system improvements then decided not to go for another $1.1million in a controversial land sale at Tuesday night’s regular session.

First, the council, under advisement of bond attorney Hugh Martin, authorized the issuance of $3.5 million in water bonds.The bond issue has been on hold for several months because after the sale of the parish gas works, the utility revenues had to be recalculated for only water and there were several engineer’s reports to be finished.

Martin and the company of Morgan Keagan, who was underwriting the bonds, said they had gotten a triple A rating on the bonds and the bonds would mature with an average interest of 5.73 percent, which, accordingto Martin, is a “very good rate.”Mitch Labas, engineer for Shear-Kurkyndahl, the firm that handles drainage and water construction in the parish, said bids could now go out on the Ruddock water project and refurbishing four water storage tanks in Lyons and Ruddock.

Sammy Accardo, St. John Parish director of utilities, said the money fromthe bonds will get a new one million-gallon storage tank at Ruddock and the parish will be able to upgrade the water plants at Lyons, Reserve and Edgard.

“This is a major upgrade for the parish, ” Accardo said.

In the land deal, the company of Newton Oldacres McDonald offered the parish $1.1. million for the one and a half acre plot of land adjacent to thePercy Hebert Building on Airline Highway.

Carl Monica, representative for Newton Oldacres McDonald, said the sale would be a win-win situation for both parties.

“It will bring in new jobs, retail space and tax dollars,” Monica said. “Weare paying a premium price for the land.”Several months earlier, the council rejected a plan in which Newton Oldacres Mcdonald and the parish would do an even swap of land, the Percy Hebert plot for an abandoned car dealership further down Airline.

But even with an assured $1.1 million, most of the council and severalcitizens were very leery of the deal.

Marie Pontyo of LaPlace was worried the money was go into the general fund and disappear before they could apply it to important projects like an animal shelter and drainage.

“Why can’t the sale wait until Jan. 1?” Pontyo asked the council.Keith Gibblis wondered if this was the best thing for the parish.

“If we do this sale, maybe we should invest the money in a mutual fund and let it grow. Let’s not be in a hurry with this,” he said.Then again, Garyville resident Bret Accosta said, “The money can go for the Garyville drainage and a dog shelter. I say, go for it.”Council members Nickie Monica and Duaine Duffy said they had gotten a lot of calls from residents saying to go through with the sale. Joel McTopysaid the calls he got were 50-50.

“Nobody here wants to raise taxes, and selling the land will help the parish,” said McTopy.

Kevin Duhon was even more adamant about accepting the deal.

“I got calls saying we’d be a damned fool not to accept $1 million,” he said.

“This is a the best deal in front of the parish. We can leave money for ourpredecessors.”But predecessors is what made Councilman Ranney Wilson balk at the deal.

“I am not happy with this sale being so close to the election and the change of council members,” said Wilson. “What happens if the appraisal ofthe land changes after the sale?” All the talk of using the money for an animal shelter irritated Dale Wolfe.

“We are not putting this responsibility on the next council, ” he lectured to the other council members. “One million dollars will never go to an animalshelter. There are people in this parish who need shelter. We have peoplesuffering, and I will tell the same thing to the new council.”Duffy ended the discussion by saying, “We are taking a short-term bite without any long-term thought. I can’t support it.”Steve Thornton then proposed an alternative motion to get the land appraised by an independent, professional appraiser and evaluate the impact of the sale on the whole picture.

The motion passed 8-1, with Duhon voting against it.

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