St. John Council picks airport engineer

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 14, 2005


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – In less than one hour, the St. John the Baptist Parish Council approved a new airport engineering consultant, promised to study a neighborhood’s sewer problem and tabled borrowing $900,000.

At its regularly scheduled meeting Thursday night, the Parish Council voted unanimously to hire Professional Engineering Corporation (P.E.C.) to administer seven work projects, at a cost of nearly $2 million, for the St. John the Baptist Parish Airport in Reserve.

Civil Defense Director Paul Oncale said the St. John the Baptist Parish Airport Consultant Selection Committee unanimously agreed on the Baton Rouge firm as the best candidate for the job. Parish Administrators rubber-stamped the recommendation.

Oncale and five other men, including Parish Chairman Joel McTopy, made up the special selection committee acquired to review seven potential applicants.

McTopy said the applicants were scored on a point system.

“We each separately scored the applicants. What was so amazing was to see that in the end, we all scored them the same way with one exception,” said McTopy.

P.E.C. will be awarded a five-year contract scheduled to begin in April, which is when the current engineer’s contract is set to expire.

The firm will be paid individually for each project it completes.

The projects are funded by the FAA and are scheduled for completion by 2010.

In a separate issue, a LaPlace Park resident complained of long-standing sewer problems in his neighborhood.

Julio Willette stood before the council and said sewer is leaking through manhole covers in his neighborhood and that the smell is overwhelming.

Willette said he mailed letters to the council and to the Board Of Health, but has not received answers. He said his whole neighborhood has asked him to address the issue and conveyed he wanted answers.

McTopy said the council is aware of the problem.

He said an analysis of the system is being performed and that the council is contemplating design changes.

“It is a piping and a pumping problem. Smaller piping runs into larger piping. Bigger pumps are needed to force the sewer through the smaller pipes,” said McTopy. “What is needed is two new pumps in the Swan Street Lift Station. We estimate this will cost $35,000.”

Earlier in the evening, the parish council voted 7-1 to postpone borrowing $900,000 in an effort to replenish the general fund.

Operating costs and poor tax collection have weakened parish reserves.

The reserves are needed to cover expenditures paid by the general fund.

New money is not expected until the 2005 property tax is collected.

Administration proposed the council borrow money for a period of one month to replenish parish reserves.

Steve Lee voted against the borrowing. However, Friday morning McTopy said he also was against borrowing the money.

“People owe us more money than what we are asking to borrow. I know we have borrowed in the past. It is not bad business, and it is not good business. However, I believe we should make every effort to collect past arrears owed to the parish before we borrow new money,” said McTopy.

McTopy said the parish has avoided borrowing in the past and that he does not believe they should begin the process again.

I believe we should continue to avoid borrowing,” said McTopy.

In the past, the parish borrowed from one department to pay expenditures in other departments. However, McTopy believes there is more than enough money to pay expenditures if the parish collects past due debt owed to it.

In December, Chief Administrative Officer Natalie Robottom maintained the council needed to make major changes in slimming the budget. At that time, Robottom called for a minimum $900,000 budget reduction. However, she was hoping for cuts upward of $1.1 million.

Robottom and Parish President Nickie Monica previously presented a 10-point plan to help reduce the budget.

The council declined several of the ideas originally presented by administration.

One idea the council opposed was rescinding annual increases in civil servant salaries.

Earlier Wednesday night, the finance committee approved a 5 percent increase in those salaries.

Civil servants will be granted a 3 percent increase as later agreed upon to balance the budget plus a 2-percent cost of living increase.

Administrative salaries are unaffected by the increase.

The parish president, the chief administration officer, the chief financial officer and all nine directors are salaried employees.

Their earnings are frozen.