Councilman cries ‘Wolfe’ over budget

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 3, 2002


LAPLACE – Increased economic development projects a bright fiscal future for St. John the Baptist Parish. But at least one member of the parish council feels the 2002 budget misses the point.

“We put all the emphasis on building, or what I call hardware projects, but the people that really need the help aren’t getting any,” District 3 Representative Dale Wolfe said. “We have teen-agers dropping out of school, folks on the corner selling crack (cocaine). There are a multitude of problems that need to be addressed, and there is nothing in the budget.”

Parish President Nickie Monica acknowledged business matters were important, but did not feel social programs were neglected. Monica listed several areas where the parish government has come to the public’s aid, including funds for weatherization projects, drug courts, and support for domestic violence agency’s like the Kingsley House.

“We have one of the finest community action agencies in the tri-parishes,” Monica said. “We have the only inner-agency council. I disagree with Mr. Wolfe.”

District 7 representative Steve Lee, who is on the finance committee, said he agreed with Wolfe but he said financial realities for St. John Parish made it difficult to fund all programs. Lee suggested the parish should hire grant writers to find and apply for more financial opportunities, with the parish paying a commission to the writer when the grant is awarded.

“We’re a poor parish. There are a number of worthwhile programs out there on the state and federal level. They do it better and they have more money. We need to find them,” Lee said.

Echoing Lee’s sentiments, District 1 Councilman Lester Rainey Jr. pointed out there is currently no one in a position to take responsibility for social programs in the parish. Previously, Walter Coleman held the dual title of Director of Human Resources and Director of Human Services, but neither position has been filled since he left in November.

“We have too many little problems that eventually become a bigger problem for all of us,” Rainey explained.

The difficulty in finding public funds for social programs is clearly illustrated in the fact that almost three-quarters of the $37.7 million in projected revenues is already mandated for basic services such as drainage, roads and wastewater management.

A fact Finance Committee Chairman and Division A Representative Cleveland Farlough does not foresee changing in the near future.

“Basic services are always a priority,” Farlough said. “People want their basic services and they want to know you’re using funds in a fiscally responsible manner.”

Allen J. St. Pierre from District 2 also sympathized with Wolfe, but reiterated Farlough’s sentiments on the contentious issue.

“Mr. Wolfe is right on target. But it’s going to take a lot of money to do those kinds of things,” said St. Pierre, adding drainage and roadwork were the main needs for his district.

“If we get things done that need to be done and maybe see where we can set aside some funds for those things. I wouldn’t want to rub one project out for another,” St. Pierre said.

Wolfe said he would like to see an assessment that drew from the knowledge of the judges, the sheriff, and the school board as to the mounting problems in the community.

“We should have our own treatment centers and juvenile detention centers with counselors to help our kids,” Wolfe said.

St. John Parish currently sends its problem juveniles to a center in St. James Parish, which Duaine Duffy from Division B is quick to point out is only half occupied and “having trouble keeping afloat.” Duffy added that a private concern is planning a half-way house in St. John Parish with the assistance of the council.

“Private does better than public in these areas,” Duffy explained. “We’re doing our part. But when can you ever say you’ve done enough in these matters? Would a priest tell you you’ve given enough?”

Wolfe sees an non-reciprocal relationship with the private sector. He cited the state’s passage of a 10-year tax exemption to encourage business into Louisiana, and a millage for economic development passed by the parish council.

“Industry comes first for St. John the Baptist Parish.” Wolfe said. “We help industry, and they should help us. But they don’t.”

Despite his dissatisfaction with the lack of funding for social programs, Wolfe admitted he did vote to approve the budget. A fact not lost on his fellow council members.

“I always want to do what I can,” said Jobe’ Boucvalt from District 5. “I would look at any plan brought to my by a council member. Has (Wolfe) brought me anything to look at? No.”