District 7 candidates deliver messages straight to voters

Published 12:10 am Saturday, March 11, 2017

LAPLACE – While water bills, parish infrastructure and economic development were all talking points Thursday night, no topic garnered more passion or ate up more talking time than levee protection when the Belle Terre Civic Association hosted a forum for the candidates running for the District 7 seat on the St. John the Baptist Parish Council.

Three men qualified for the election, each listing LaPlace addresses and Republican affiliations with the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office. They include James “Buddy” Duhe, Steven Fraker and Thomas Malik.

All three candidates attended the forum and each stressed how important it is to build the levee system proposed for the parish is.

“We must have levee protection, but we must have someone there who’s watching how we spend the money.” Fraker, president of Economy Bookkeeping and Tax Service in LaPlace, said.

Malik told the crowd he had to gut and rebuild his own home after Hurricane Isaac in 2012.

“I don’t want to do it again,” Malik said. “I don’t want to see you do it again.”

Duhe also highlighted the need for the levee protection, but was the only candidate who gave alternative solutions to funding other than a new, 7-mills Ad Valorem (property) tax.

Parish Council members approved a special election April 29, where voters will be asked to approve the tax.

Duhe said he would be interested in possible rollbacks from other areas of the parish budget to fund the parish’s share of the total project, which Parish President Natalie Robottom has said will cost an estimated at $718 million, with a federal cost-share of 65 percent and a non-federal cost-share of 35.

“We all know we need a levee,” Fraker said.

“I am 100 percent behind the tax.”

Malik agreed, adding the tax would equate to $3.44 a month for the average resident.

“It’s the cost of a gallon of milk or three bottles of Abita beer,” he said, later adding the levee system would give parish residents a return on their investments when their home values increase and flood insurance plans decreased.

When asked what the parish should do to attract new families and retain existing ones, Malik said the parish should use its resources, such as the civic center, more wisely. Fraker said the parish needed bigger homes available for purchase.

Duhe said new shopping centers and restaurants may entice people, but used the majority of his allotted time to discuss the public school system.

“The schools are good, but need a little improvement,” Duhe said, adding as a member of the Council he would favor more partnerships with the school system. “With better schools, people would come here and stay here.”

Each candidate agreed a new water treatment plant would greatly aid in what ails the parish in regards to inaccuracies in water bills and lackluster water quality. Other topics to garner unanimous agreement from the candidates were the possible implementation of curbside recycling, the need for more entertainment venues and the need for road and drainage work within District 7.

For more than a year, residents of District 7 have had a rotation of Council representatives. Incumbent Councilwoman Cheryl Millet announced in 2015 she would seek another Council seat, which led to a fall race between three candidates, eventually won by Buddy Boe.

Six months into Boe’s term on the Council, he announced his resignation in order to serve as senior advisor and communications director to Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser.

Parish Council members followed Boe’s departure by naming Raj Pannu to an interim role on the Council as the District 7 representative.

Election Day is March 25, and early voting starts today and runs through March 18.

— By Monique Roth