In many ways, 2018 in a quintet of Acadiana Parishes contained some common threads:
However, in other ways, the highlights are unique and distinct to the communities and their leaders.
In my discussions with five local leaders, the overall theme seemed to be that – even in the face of our state’s economic hurdles, even with the seemingly unending downward spiral of the oil industry – Acadiana continues to grow, continues to take steps forward and continues to have hope.
“I think the thing that fires me up most is the amount of work we’ve done in terms of infrastructure with lack of funds and dollars.”
Larry Richard, Iberia Parish President
Getting the Most Out of Its Dollars
$1.5 million in bridge projects. 30-miles of drainage channel improvements. 46-miles worth of ditch clean-up. State-of-the-art security system installed at the Parish courthouse.
It’s clear that the leadership of Iberia Parish was busy in 2019, striving to make each and every dollar count. “Obviously, with the economy being what it is, the royalty fund we get from the oil and gas industry has been seriously reduced,” explains Richard. “But we still have projects, still have needs to meet, and that sometimes requires us to get more creative in how we work with the state and federal government. We can better the quality of life for our people, even with cutting the budget.” And, says Richard proudly, they’ll enter 2019 with a balanced budget. “It’s always good when you can get the budget balanced and approved in November. “
Recycling the Recycling Program
Needing to cut the budget in 2018 had Richard and his staff look at the Parish’s recycling program. “We were doing curbside recycling, but we found that only seven-percent of our residents were participating. So, we changed to roll-off containers, and suddenly saved the parish nearly $200,000.”
A Better Job of Getting There in 2019
Road construction will continue to be something to watch in 2019. “There’s the straightening of Highway-88,” says Richard. “In June, we will go out to bid on our roundabout on Highway-675 on Jefferson Island Road, which will be the largest roundabout in Louisiana. And the Acadiana Regional access road, which has been talked about for a couple years and will connect to that roundabout, will finally go out to bid later in 2019.”
“We’re proud of many things, both tethered to the beginning of the year, and to things that are happening recently.”
Joel Robideaux, Lafayette Mayor-President
The floods of 2016 and 2017 put the spotlight on drainage in certain parts of Lafayette Parish, so much so that Robideaux decided that something needed to be done, particularly in terms of transparency of the Public Works Department. And, truth be told, it wasn’t just about drainage; it was more about inclusion, i.e. bringing residents into the information loop.
“We get so many calls that go like, ‘This lateral that runs through my neighborhood: When is the work going to be done? Where is it in the process? How much money is being spent? Where is it in the timeline?’” The questions, Robideaux knew, needed answering, and accessible technology provided the solution. “At the beginning of the year, we were finally able to roll out the webpage for public works drainage projects.”
It was all about providing ‘real-time’ answers. Lafayette has over 600 miles of coulees and providing clear, immediate access to the information and issues related to such drainage constructs was a must. “And so anyone can go on the website, and see, ‘This is the project. We’re still waiting on a permit from the Corps of Engineers.’ People really just want the information. They may be aggravated that it’s taking longer, but they’ll be more aggravated when it’s taking longer and they don’t know why.”
Maintained by Public Works personnel, the site provides---maybe not immediate gratification, but…immediate answers. “Give them (residents) all the information, the same information that we have,” explains Robideaux, “that there’s a permit problem, or that there’s a wetlands issue that we’re trying to mitigate.” The new site has been up-and-running since early 2018.
Finally Transitioning the OLD Federal Courthouse?
If technological access to the drainage news was important to Robideaux, so was moving forward or moving past or simply moving on a part of Lafayette’s downtown area that had simply…. stopped moving. “Fairly recently, we finally got the Council’s support to put the old Federal Courthouse downtown back into commerce,” he says with a sigh of relief. “Decades in the making, long-needed and there’s a part of me that doesn’t understand why it took so long. Seems like one of those no-brainers.”
The goal was (and is) to get the old federal courthouse property back into the world of commerce and of generating tax revenue that would encourage businesses “…to come here, to develop and to employ people.” Redeveloping the courthouse and nearby properties would include the construction of a number of residential apartments. “This residential component is something that a downtown needs to become a vibrant place of activity,” adds Robideaux. “Because once you have this residential component, it makes sense that businesses will locate there, that a grocery store will locate there.”
It’s a natural progression for a part of the city that continues to grow and thrive, he concludes. “We have a great downtown for the workforce that are there from 7:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.; we have events like Downtown Alive. This will help us get to the next phase.”
And to 2019
Robideaux’s hopes and dreams for the New Year begin with the continuation of a source of pride from last year. “Number one, I’ll say, is that we’re going to keep pushing on the old federal courthouse. I want that project to happen as quickly as possible.“
What else? Well, when Robideaux grabbed the reins of Lafayette’s city and parish in 2016, he knew that, without a doubt, the entry points to the Hub City had to be cleaned up. “We have been working for my first three years on this University Avenue corridor and trying to get all of the pieces of that puzzle in place,” he says. And in 2019, Robideaux believes those efforts will begin to truly take root. “We’ll start to see some development happen from I-10 towards campus. So I feel like in ’19, we’ll start to see the fruits of our labor; finally start spending some money to make that happen.”
ST. MARTIN PARISH
“I’m enjoying the challenge. It’s somewhat familiar, but with a lot of different aspects.”
Chester Cedars, St. Martin Parish President
If You Build Them….
In St. Martin Parish, much of what Chester Cedars saw as Parish accomplishments were continuations of projects set in motion by his predecessor, Guy Cormier. “When I was appointed, I knew I wanted to do more than simply keep the ship afloat,” says Cedars. “Like Mr. Cormier, I wanted to keep things moving forward.” With that, furthers Cedars, has come a $25-million bond issue, with $20-million of that aimed at drainage and the remaining $5-million tackling public park renovations and multi-purpose centers in communities such as Cecilia, Coteau and Catahoula. “Especially in rural areas, our parks and civic centers help keep our communities together and provide our citizens with places to go and things to do.”
To the Volunteers, A Bit of ‘Thanks’
In terms of his own passions and experience, Cedars is proud of how the 12 volunteer fire departments (with 242 firefighters) of St. Martin Parish have come together to act as one unit under the auspices of the Parish government. “I’ve allocated substantial money ($200,000) to give our firemen a true token of much we appreciate them.”
A Healthier Parish
When discussing the needed expansion of healthcare, Cedars credits Parish residents for taking the time to make an educated decision. “Voters approved a $12-million expansion of St. Martin Hospital in Breaux Bridge, and we’ve purchased a tract of land just to the north. That means cardiovascular specialists, dermatology, internal medicine and family practice professionals.”
A More Efficient 2019
While 2019, says Cedars, will extend his fire and health care initiatives, look for a major transformation in the world of fiscal management. “Internally, we will implement an electronic management of manpower; our pay system was outdated and employees will be able to see their records and available vacation time. We’ll also be able to examine and prioritize work orders based on need rather than who has the most influence.”
ST. MARY PARISH
“2018 was all about infrastructure and consolidation. These are aimed at both improving the quality of life for St. Mary Parish residents and attracting businesses.”
David Hanagriff, St. Mary Parish President
The Word is ‘Consolidation’
Consolidation has been a major goal ever since David Hanagriff took office. “I can’t tell you the number of services that were being duplicated,” explains Hanagriff. “So we’re talking to citizens and explaining things, taking it one component at a time.” Among the goals, says Hanagriff, is to centralize the governing of numerous water districts, fire districts and sewage districts in St. Mary Parish. “Of course, we want to save money and run things more efficiently, but even more so, we want to improve the oversight of our Parish component entities.”
De-Pestering the Budget
Bugs. The issue of bugs (and its related cost) was….bugging Hanagriff, so much so the Parish decided to take matters into its own hands. “We actually created and established our own mosquito program, and saved $80,000 off our budget. A state grant paid for it—we didn’t have to put in a single dollar—and my public works director, who is licensed and trained in this, runs it.”
The Year of Attractive Efficiency
Point One—that of consolidation—will remain a priority, but St. Mary Parish has more on its plate as the pages of the calendar flip. “In 2019, we’re going to follow through on road construction,” furthers Hanagriff, “We’ve bonded $10-million, and will do another $10-million next year.” Hanagriff will also continue to push forth his philosophy of lowering millage rates and taxes. “Trying to create that atmosphere for businesses to come here. When all of that happens, sometimes you just have to get out of the way and let them come in and be successful.”
“Over the past few months, the Jury has been working hard to improve our own operation, so we can better serve the Parish.”
Keith Roy, Vermilion Parish Administrator
A Healthier, Cleaner & Safer ‘You’
In a number of ways, leadership in Vermilion Parish decided it was time to either clean up or shut up. That meant aiming more time and more energy to address health-related equipment and needed aesthetics in the area. “We’ve made our Solid Waste Plant more efficient, and we’ve provided training to our staff to ensure they are able to utilize synthetic cover to cover the waste instead of dirt,” explains Roy. “The synthetic cover is less than half the cost of dirt.”
New Life for the Landfill
Garbage—not necessarily pretty, but obviously a reality in any community—was also a priority in 2018. “The jury had the old garbage mill dismantled to make room for the new one we recently purchased,” adds Roy. “The new mill is saving us space and money, and will extend the life of our landfill for many years.” Jurors also made some dollars (and did a bit of beautifying, too) by selling a lot of old and broken landfill equipment to a salvage company.
Vermilion Parish also took on its first-ever Human Resources employee, and recently contracted to allow payments owed the Parish to be done electronically. “We’ve also beefed up security at the courthouse, and approved the painting of the building, too, something that was needed for a long time.”
Coastal Preservation in 2019
As Vermilion Parish moves into 2019, look for coastal protection projects to once again be at the forefront. One will be the $12.4-million construction of Cole’s Bayou, which will have three marsh creation cells and contain a number of water control structures. That, says Roy, will lead to “…funding a project along Freshwater Bayou on the east bank near Cole’s Bayou. This project will protect the improvements being constructed in Cole’s Bayou.” Vermilion Parish will leverage Restore Acts funds to pay for the project; the Parish will receive Restore Act dollars for the next 15 years.
The hopes and dreams of 2019 are already in play. For many, those hopes rest, as they seemingly always have, on the oil and gas industry. But efficiency, and getting the most out of the dollars they have (and not long to have) is being embraced by the aforementioned leaders of Acadiana.
Regardless, many of the good things mentioned above tell us Acadiana's collective zest for life will never fade: our people do good things, which lead to amazing things, which lead to life-changing things. Acadiana answers the call time and time again, and will continue to do so in 2019.