Road repair idea launches squabble

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 18, 2004

By SUE ELLEN ROSS – Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – When Allen Whitehead of CBSL Transportation addressed the St. John Parish Council Tuesday, he was only asking for repairs to Power Boulevard in Reserve. The street runs by his business, which employs 96 people, and is in dire need of resurfacing, he said.

Little did Whitehead know that his request would open a can of worms and lead into a hotly-debated discussion by council members that lasted more than 45 minutes.

Public Works Director Virgil Rayneri agreed with Whitehead that the road is in bad shape.

“I have looked at the street and it’s like a roller coaster,” he told the council. “It definitely needs repair.”

A Sept. 22 estimate of the cost to undertake the project came in at almost $190,000, according to Rayneri. “It’s probably more now,” he added.

Parish president Nickie Monica recognized the repair request Tuesday and said that it would be put on the top priority list. It would be undertaken as soon as funds became available, he added.

Exactly where those fund will come from was the bone of contention among council members.

“Do we have the money to get this done?’ said councilwoman Jaclyn Hotard. “Can the money be taken from the ED (Economic Development) fund?”

She said that it was her understanding that Whitehead’s request would fall under the type of project the fund would support. Also, monies from this fund are transferred to the general fund every year, she added.

“Here we go again, dipping into the ED funds,” said councilman Ronnie Smith. “We can’t expect the parish to grow if we keep dipping into these funds.”

Council chairman Joel McTopy feels the purpose of the ED fund was to undertake projects such as the request before the council.

“Here we have an opportunity to use this money as it was intended. We have a legitimate request here,” he said. “An established company such as this has all the justification of using ED money.”

Councilman Sean Roussel disagreed with using ED monies.

“If we go ahead with this, it would be a bad precedent to set,” he said. “I think we will shut this department (Economic Development) down if we do this.”

The debate went on.

“l have people that will jump on me about their streets,” said council member Dale Wolfe. “And I don’t have an answer for them. We need to sit down and talk about the streets and funding repairs.”

Although Whitehead’s business is not in McTopy’s district, he said he understood the businessman’s concerns and felt something should be done to accommodate his request.

McTopy made a motion to the council that they direct administration to go ahead with the project, asking Rayneri to get another estimate and that they take money from the Economic Development Fund to pay for the project.

McTopy and councilman Allen St. Pierre were the only ones in agreement. “Certainly we would like to accommodate this company and keep them here,” St. Pierre said before a vote was taken.

The motion failed 2-7.