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Council extends CEA with South Central Planning

LAPLACE — The South Central Planning and Development Commission came under scrutiny during a meeting of the St. John the Baptist Parish Council on Aug. 10, with at least one council member questioning if the parish should sever ties and hire its own inspectors.

The Parish Council voted to execute a continuation of its Cooperative Endeavor Agreement following a lengthy discussion of the Commission’s efficiency and financial effectiveness to the Parish.

SCPDC serves as the entity responsible for providing planning review and inspection services to participating jurisdictions throughout southeast Louisiana, including St. John the Baptist.

A portion of the permit fees collected from applicants pays for the services the Commission provides.

St. John’s share is approximately $24,000 monthly, or close to $300,000 annually.

Upon questioning by Councilwoman Tammy Houston, Parish Planning and Zoning director Rene Pastorek said he is satisfied with the services the commission provides. Houston then asked if the Commission gets paid if no inspections were performed in a particular month, to which Pastorek said it would but quickly added that will likely never happen.

Rather, the parish issues about 800 building and other permits annually, so the commission remains active in the parish, with a minimum of two representatives daily.

“You don’t have enough staff (to perform the work in-house)?” she asked.

Pastorek explained that, without SCPDC, the parish would have to hire an additional five to six certified inspectors, which includes salary, benefits, etc. He said he recently compiled an estimated cost analysis and determined that leaving SCPDC would cost the parish at least an extra $100,000 per year, based on the lowest possible salary for the incoming inspectors.

Councilman Thomas Malik endorsed the Commission, saying he speaks with inspectors and that some of them will often make up to 12 stops a day in a variety of roles.

Kevin Belanger, chief executive officer of South Central Planning, said in 2020 his office performed 7,442 inspections and close to 1,100 plan reviews just in St. John. He said based on those numbers, each inspection averages about $36, largely below what an average inspection might cost.

“That is how much of a savings we are bringing to the parish,” he said.

Belanger said the Commission has in the past and continues to develop and update software unique to SCPDC. The Commission, he said, is working to collectively solve regional challenges.

SCPDC has 35 employees dedicated to developing and refining that software, and the Commission is able to sell it to parishes and countries nationwide.

Councilwoman Tyra Duhe-Griffin said she has received complaints from constituents regarding response time to processing applications for permits. She also had to wait several hours for an inspector after setting up an appointment.

“That is unacceptable,” said Belanger. “I can easily track it down through our software. I apologize on our behalf if it was our mistake.”

South Central Planning, located in Houma, also serves neighboring St. Charles and St. James parishes.

The council voted to extend the agreement.

In other action, the council approved a change order for the quantities of material and labor for the delayed water meter reading and billing system project. Chief Financial Officer Robert Figuero said the changes increase the quantities of the material and labor and new meter box lids as higher than expected replacements are needed in the field.

The change order also extends the project by 180 calendar days, although parish officials are hoping that time is much shorter.

Council members also rejected the only bid received for the construction of the LA SAFE Airline and Main Complete Street Project. The lone bid checked in at nearly $7.1 million, far exceeding the $4.7 million originally budgeted for the project.

Peter Montz, director of the purchasing and procurement, said meetings will be set up with engineers to determine what to do next regarding the project, adding that “all options are on the table.”