Council deliberates drainage department

Published 12:03 am Saturday, June 22, 2019

LAPLACE — For the past few years, St. John the Baptist Parish Councilman Larry Snyder has championed a cause for the parish administration to create an exclusive drainage department with its own line item in the annual budget.

Snyder may finally be getting his wish, although a motion unanimously passed by the parish council at its June 11 meeting directing President Natalie Robottom to create such a department may set the stage for another showdown between the two branches of government.

“Let’s start this tonight,” Snyder said, noting that if delayed until the end of the year, finding the money would be incumbent on the council. “The administration needs to look at ways of finding money to fund drainage.

“(Drainage) is our biggest problem. We need to start right here, tonight.”

Snyder’s motion directs the administration to create a line item in the budget specifically for drainage and fund it at a minimum of $500,000.

Although Robottom was not present at the meeting, she noted in her administrative report submitted to the council that according to the Home Rule Charter, the president will prepare and submit a balanced operating budget and capital outlay program for approval. She added that during the budgeting process a request is sent to the council and department heads for suggestions and recommendations.

Workshops are also held before the final budget is submitted.

“In the spirit of cooperation, we should be able to discuss this with (Robottom),” Snyder said, who added that parish engineer consultant Joseph Savoie has already prepared a drainage plan.

Council member Michael Wright reminded fellow council members he initially requested a comprehensive drainage plan eight years ago.

Council member Jaclyn Hotard-Gaudet said she had proposed and the council adopted a similar proposal within the past few years.

“It has to be funded and enacted,” she said. “We (previously) approved a resolution to create this. We have created this department.”

Hotard-Gaudet directly addressed chief financial officer Robert Figuero when she said, “we are telling you to find the money to do this.”

She said it was unfathomable that it “has not been enacted to this point.”

In other council news, chief administrative officer Laverne Toombs said viewers attending the annual fireworks display in celebration of Independence Day would not be allowed on the levee because of the elevated level of the Mississippi River. Snyder agreed with the idea and said it should be a lesson to parents to take extra caution when their children are playing on the levee.

Also, when the council meets June 15, member are expected to address a controversial proposal to amend the professional services contract with Environmental Engineering Services, Inc., for the wastewater retention pond conversion to wastewater oxidation treatment pond project. The matter was tabled during the June 11 meeting after legal and finance issues were raised during a lengthy discussion.

At one point, Toombs suggested the district attorney’s office, which found the amendment was not legally sufficient, was “confused” regarding some elements of the proposal.

Toombs said the matter being discussed was a “technical question, not a legal question.”

Questions were also raised about the cost of construction and if the parish should bear responsibility for increased engineering fees because of rising construction costs.

Assistant District Attorney Chris Cortez said changes between the DA’s office and administration were exchanged but he did not have the opportunity to review the final language change from administration before the meeting, in which Toombs expressed her disagreement.

The matter is on the finance committee agenda, with the meeting moved up 30 minutes to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in LaPlace.

By Richard Meeks