Packed house turns out for Garyville meeting
Published 12:00 am Friday, May 9, 2008
By KEVIN CHIRI
Editor and Publisher
GARYVILLE – The beginning of an “education campaign” by supporters of the Garyville Incorporation Committee drew a standing room only crowd to Garyville Elementary School on Thursday night.
Just over 300 people turned out for the first public town meeting to discuss the proposed incorporation of Garyville, which will be decided on a July 19 vote of approximately 4,200 people who live in the area.
“This was great tonight,” Committee Chair Geri Baloney said. “I am totally pleased with the turnout we had tonight. I thought we might get about 200, so this was even better than we expected.”
The proposed boundaries for the Town of Garyville would include Garyville, Mt. Airy and some of the Reserve area known as Lions and Dutch Bayou.
Organizers of the incorporation drive brought in two mayors from Louisiana towns which went through their own incorporation effort, as Grand Isle Mayor David Carmadelle and St. Gabrielle Mayor George Grace both spoke extensively about their experience.
Additionally, Joy Irwin with the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office, Public Service Commissioner Lambert Boissiere and Lucien Cutrera with the Shaw Group, a planning company, were on hand and each spoke.
After all the guest speakers took their turns with the microphone, a question and answer session was held. However to the dismay of a number of people who later left the meeting, no questions were allowed from the audience, as attendants at the meeting were allowed to write a question on a card and submit it to the moderator. From there, Moderator Tomy Acosta selected questions for the panel, most of which went to the two mayors.
“I was disappointed we couldn’t ask questions from the audience,” Garyville resident Matt Madere said. “I would have liked an open forum since the way they did it sounded like the questions were prepared.”
Madere said he is still listening to information and making up his mind.
“I’m still trying to decide which way to go on this,” he said. “But I didn’t hear much of anything new here tonight.”
Lifelong Garyville resident Gloria Jackson said she thought the event was well put together, although she is not revealing which way she is leaning on her vote.
“I thought the entire meeting was well organized and well planned,” she stated. “The information was very well presented.”
Attendees were given a packet on the incorporation effort, detailing every aspect most people might ask about, although some information in the handout is not agreed upon by St. John parish officials.
On the key issue of whether industry will be paying any substantial amount of their tax money to the new town, the handout states that they will receive revenue from the industry, something St. John officials disagree on.
Both mayors who spoke presented a positive picture of incorporation, with Mayor Grace from St. Gabrielle making it sound like millions of dollars are there for the waiting should Garyville incorporate.
However both mayors did agree that residents need to understand there will be a lot of hard work to realize those dollars, which can come in the form of grants or loans to new municipalities.
“There is even one program the government has where you can be given $99,000 to loan to small businesses, and if you do that, then they give you $99,000 more. If you are successful several times, you can get even more money,” Grace noted.
Residents leaving the evening had mixed reactions to what was presented during the night.
“I just can’t see it,” Debra Heltz said of the incorporation. “I don’t see enough new business here to support a town and I still figure I’ll pay more taxes.”
Heltz referred to homeowner rates going up for the higher income people, which upset her since she said much of the town is lower income residents who don’t pay taxes.
“Once again it is going to be a quarter of the people who will pay all the taxes for those who aren’t paying anything,” she said.
Marcel Bourgeois stood in the back of the room and held up a sign which was largely drawn out saying “NO” to the vote.
“They’re hiding something and I still think the people organizing this thing want to see what money they can put their hands on for themselves,” he said. “They didn’t even answer any questions tonight. It just sounded like they made up their own questions.”
Several others are still undecided after listening to the evening of speeches from the invited guests.
“I really didn’t get much out of this,” lifelong senior resident Al Bourgeois said. “There were no negative remarks about anything and I’m sure there is something negative about this. I’m still not decided which way I’m voting although I am leaning against it.”
One individual who asked not to be named said he was for the incorporation, noting “I’m for it. This will make the town grow. LaPlace and Reserve have grown, but Garyville was here first. Now this is the chance for our town to grow.”
Betty Vicknair said she was against the incorporation since she was impressed with the work being done in the parish by new Parish President Bill Hubbard, and wanted to give him a chance to help Garyville.
“I like our town as it is and since Bill Hubbard took over, there are a lot of signs of promise for the entire parish,” she said. “We will do well with the new parish president helping us, but as for incorporation, hell no, I’m not voting for it.”
Justin Smith questioned the matter of many people who are on the committee for incorporation being the same individuals who recently fought against the Safeland Storage tank farm.
“I kept hearing them say tonight how all this will ‘create jobs,’ but this is the same group who fought to stop the tank farm, which was going to bring jobs,” Smith remarked. “How can you take both sides of that issue? I still don’t see how I benefit from incorporating.”
Committee Vice Chair Scott Himel acknowledged there is a lot more work to do in educating the public, but feels like the group is moving in the right direction with good results.
“We still have a lot of work to do to educate people,” the Dupont employee who has lived in Garyville his entire life said. “Now that our campaign is kicked off, we want to ask people what their concerns are, like some of the things brought up tonight.
“I think we could win if this vote was tomorrow,” he added.
Himel said the group will have their next education forum in Reserve, although no date is yet set.