St. John Council approves tabled law firm contract

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 1, 2011



LAPLACE – Two weeks after tabling the renewal of a contract with a Garyville law firm helping St. John the Baptist Parish manage and dispose of thousands of parcels of property acquired in tax sales, the council on Tuesday voted to approve a new, two-year contract.

The Broussard Baloney law firm will be the lone contractor assisting the parish in getting the stagnant properties back into commerce. The council had several questions about the firm and the progress of the program that were answered by parish administrators.

Attorney Geri Baloney explained to the council and the public that the process of selling the properties, which were seized by the parish after they failed to sell at tax sale, is the best opportunity for the properties to get back into the hands of landowners. Some of the properties in question have been in the parish’s possession for more than five years.

Baloney added that the program includes a “lot next door” program to allow neighboring property owners the first opportunity to acquire the properties, many of which are situated in rural areas.

“The neighbors are usually family members of former owners of the property,” Baloney said. “It gives those landowners the first chance to legally get title to these properties.”

She also said some of the properties, many of which are in the Garyville area, are blighted or abandoned and are often being used for drug activity.

“It will give us the opportunity to clean up some of these properties and have an owner pay taxes on them again,” Baloney said.

Parish President Natalie Robottom said at the last meeting that the parish is ultimately responsible for maintenance and upkeep of the properties. She said the ultimate goal is to dispose of the properties, particularly the ones owned for at least five years, which gives the parish a clear title on the properties.

Councilman Haston Lewis was one of a handful of council members that requested a delay in the vote because he wanted to make sure no one was losing their property. He said after the meeting he was satisfied in the program and that his questions were answered.

The Broussard Baloney firm was enlisted in 2009, along with Choice Title of LaPlace, to assist the parish in managing and selling off the property.

Choice Title has chosen not to continue the contract, which has cost the parish about $40,000 so far.

Councilman Steve Lee said Tuesday that the parish has been dealing with ways to get rid of some of the properties in question for more than 20 years. He said he is pleased to see the program moving forward.

“I think it is absolutely necessary for a parish our size and as sophisticated as we are becoming to do this,” Lee said.

In other action, the council approved the low bid of $40,818 from Satellite Shelters of LaPlace for a new office trailer for the parish Utilities Department. The department has outgrown its existing trailer offices.