Motor vehicle office fee hiked

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 25, 2002


EDGARD – St. John the Baptist Parish motorists will see fees go up, but additional services promised by the state Department of Public Safety have yet to materialize.

At a recent meeting, the parish council approved a $1 fee increase for all services at the motor vehicle office on Airline Highway in Reserve and, according to parish administrator Chris Guidry, “the state will continue to discuss additional services.”

Councilman Duaine Duffy complained the promise of these additional services led the parish to build the new Airline Highway facility, which opened in February 2001, with the pledge of more revenues. However, the revenues have not come and, Duffy said, “They still haven’t given us any additional services.”

The office is a drain on parish finances, though, as it costs $56,450 per year for the building maintenance and an employee salary. “They need to sign a lease,” Duffy continued, and added, “It was a bad business deal.”

The office generates just under $30,000 per year. Among the promised services were issuing commercial driver’s licenses and assisting ticketed drivers. Adding to the problem of a lack of additional revenue is the fact that Louisiana now permits people to renew their driver’s licenses over the Internet, paying no fees whatsoever.

Drivers in the LaPlace area, though, will get a break soon from one of the worst-maintained railroad crossings in Louisiana, the Kansas City Southern crossing at Elm Street, near the Percy Hebert Building, according to Parish President Nickie Monica.

The notorious double-railline crossing slowed traffic to a crawl as vehicles crept across the crumbling railroad ties. Repairs began Monday and are expected to be completed soon.

Councilman Cleveland Farlough pushed through a resolution asking the state to reinstate full ferry operations at the Reserve-Edgard crossing.

Farlough was amending a July 2000 resolution which called for the same thing, but the state Department of Transportation and Development never acted on it. “I’m a little bit suspicious,” he commented.

He added the ferry is important to East Bank workers at chemical plants on the West Bank of St. Charles Parish, and he is calling for an 18-hour schedule, seven days a week.

Currently, the ferry runs on a more erratic schedule, often when a sign is saying the ferry is off-duty. Councilman Lester Rainey complained the DOTD responds with the message: “Who are we to tell them?” and added there is a manpower shortage of qualified operators for ferry services.

“They get people and lose people because of the low pay, especially for engineers,” Rainey said, who also called upon Monica to seek federal funding for the hiring, training and better pay for the crews.

Councilman Dale Wolfe suggested leaning on the state legislative delegation to urge their pressure on DOTD “and make them accountable.”

The resolution passed unanimously.

Related to this matter, Rainey and Wolfe pushed through an amendment to promote the ferry as a tourism attraction, using federal funding. This also gained approval. The council also agreed to explore the possibility of buying the old Thunderbolt Lounge on Central Avenue in Edgard for use as the West Bank’s only community center. Acting at the suggestion of Rainey, the council agreed by resolution to buy the $95,000 building, now boarded up and vacant, from a local attorney. The facility is located at the corner of Central Avenue and River Road.

An ordinance is required first to spend the money, which could come from the $18 million bond issue revenue. The matter will be reviewed at the next meeting, set in LaPlace on Tuesday.

Finally, Economic Development Director Julia Remondet reported that several practical nurse openings will be available at the new, $18 million, 200-bed veterans home, to be built in Reserve. A job workshop is being planned July 13 with the River Parishes Campus of the Louisiana Technical College in Reserve.

Construction for the facility is to begin this fall or in early 2003, and the practical nurse program, an 18-month curriculum, could dovetail with the opening of the facility, Remondet said.