St. John public defenders to receive retirement benefits, parish council authorizes other key projects

Published 1:14 pm Friday, October 20, 2023

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Public defenders in St. John the Baptist Parish will soon be able to receive retirement benefits, as mandated by the state, parish President Jaclyn said during the parish council meeting on Oct. 10.

Hotard said a request made by the public defender’s office that the staff be allowed to participate in the parish’s retirement system, a request that admittedly left Hotard a bit befuddled.

“I’m not sure why government authorities have to authorize it,” she said. “We have no contribution or (financially participate) in the plan for them.

“It’s just the way the Legislature has it set up but we have to authorize it. It’s a two-step process.”

Hotard said St. John is handling the process in a similar fashion as other parishes. 

In other matters, the council authorized the administration to award the bid for the Lake Pontchartrain Shoreline Protection to Rigid Construction of Lafayette. Rigid submitted the lowest bid of $9,04 million for the base bid and alternative No. 1. 

The project is designed to reduce shoreline erosion in Lake Pontchartrain from Frenier Landing south to the parish boundary line and is financed through GOMESA funds. 

Also, help appears to be on the way to reopen the shuttered parish animal shelter after council members approved the hiring of Beazley Longo Shelter design of Lafayette for design services of the shelter. Chief Administrative Officer Peter Montz said the services will include the design of renovations and repairs to provide a functioning shelter by utilizing, improving, repairing and connecting existing buildings. 

“I am glad we are going to start working on this because I have been getting a lot of calls on what to do with unwanted animals and animals just roaming the street,” Councilwoman Tammy Houston said.

Although admitting to being excited about the project, Hotard cautioned Houston that she might want to temper her enthusiasm. She said the problem of dealing with stray animals is national, and even many higher-funded shelters are having capacity challenges.

“I’m not sure why it is higher now but it will be something we will still be dealing with,” Hotard said. “We are looking forward to getting the repairs done.”

She said the firm has previously presented recommendations and added some of those might have to be pushed back to a “later wish list.”

“Getting the building back open, getting some of those items up to code are really the priorities, so we are looking forward to getting this project completed,” Hotard said. 

Council members also approved a resolution allowing the parish to enter into a cooperative endeavor agreement with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development for contributions to the operating subsidy for potential intercity rail services between Baton Rouge to New Orleans and back.

Hotard said the train, once operational, would connect New Orleans and Baton Rouge daily and include stops in Jefferson Parish, Laplace, Gonzales and Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. She said DOTD and the parish will share the costs associated with operations of the rail service.

Hotard quoted what she called rough estimates of the annual cost to the parish. She said with one round trip and two trains daily the annual cost to the parish is estimated at $6,000 to the parish. 

“If they ever get this operating with four round trips and eight trains the (annual) cost would be $25,000 to $75,000,” she said. “It is very minimal because we are one of the smaller parishes in the mix. This is one required step in the piece of this puzzle.