Published 7:10 am Wednesday, November 14, 2012
BY MARCELLE HANEMANN
The Daily News
Bogalusa residents who are not home-bound have certainly noticed an upswing in activity throughout the city, and there is reportedly more happening than even meets the eye.
The action includes community events designed to get local people empowered, excited and involved in “Building a Better Bogalusa,” plus various municipal projects being undertaken with the goal of improving the quality of life, strengthening the economy and attracting outsiders to visit and even relocate to the city.
During the last City Council meeting, department heads, council members and even some members of the public offered information and comments.
City Administrator Jerry Baily reported that the city sales taxes for September were up close to $10,000 over what they were for the same period last year, and were up more than $444,000 for the year.
He added that the city is getting tough about collecting what it’s due.
For starters, five liens were placed on properties that were demolished at the city’s expense and for which the city has not been repaid, Bailey said. More than a dozen other such liens are in process, he said. If it is not reimbursed, the city can legally add the expense to the property owners’ tax bills for the following year, according to City Attorney Dale Branch.
Bogalusa has also begun an “aggressive” pursuit of unpaid occupational license taxes, and an “intense effort” to collect past due accounts for water, sewer and sanitation charges, Bailey said.
Along similar lines, Councilwoman Oneita Graham later said, “lots and lots of people in Bogalusa owe back taxes.” She urged property owners who have not gotten an annual tax bill to check with the city to find out their status.
Their properties may have been adjudicated and now be owned by the city, or they might have been redeemed, in which case the owners could owe years’ worth of back taxes, Graham said.
The councilwoman began working to compile a true list of adjudicated properties months ago, and last week introduced legislation for the creation of an adjudicated properties program. Additionally, ordinances were introduced that would authorize the mayor to enter into agreements with Archon Information Systems concerning adjudicated property and online collection as well as delinquent property tax collection and online sale services.
Archon CEO Byron Barrios said he applauds the city of Bogalusa for “thinking progressively” with regard to getting its adjudicated properties “back into the stream of commerce.”
Public hearings on all three proposals will be held during the Dec. 4 council meeting.
While the city is working to collect what it’s owed, it’s also making improvements in a range of areas.
Public Works Director James Hall said that includes street work. The city was beginning the process of laying asphalt on a section of Cumberland Street where it had finished addressing drainage issues, he said Thursday.
But just that “little section” of road repair cost $38,000, and the entire street overlay project is estimated at $2 million, he said. That’s on top of about $900,000 to first repair the aging sewer system under the roadways.
“We’re working on it a little at a time,” Hall said.
The city has also put a couple of fresh coats of paint on the Columbia Street bridge; the contractor is on-site for the Poplas Street bridge project; and crews are filling pot holes one day a week in addition to any “emergencies,” he said.
Anyone who sees a dangerous pothole is urged to call him at 732-6213.
Progress was also noted and commended in the Bogalusa Fire Department, for earning an improved fire rating, which translates into insurance premium savings for those who own property in the city. The grade rose from a Class 4 to a Class 3 on a scale of 1 to 10.
Fire Chief Richard Moody said the FPD had the Class 4 rating for decades, and he attributed the upgrade to training, equipment and the work and cooperation of the Public Works Department.
The rating is based 50 percent on the evaluation of the fire department, 40 percent on that of the Water Department and 10 percent on that of the dispatchers, he said.
Moody commended the group effort and vowed to continue improvements and to work towards a rating of Class 2. That would “cost the city millions of dollars” because it requires a locally based training facility, but there are grants that could help with the funding, he said.
To get the adjusted insurance rate, property owners need to contact their insurance providers and inform them of the change.
On another item that concerns safety and security, Police Chief Joe Culpepper said he has a couple of recruits about to finish their training and get to work policing the city.
The progress in Bogalusa also includes items of a recreational nature, which enhance the quality of life while attracting outsiders to the city.
Human Resources Supervisor Sandy Bloom reminded those in attendance that the annual City of Bogalusa Lighted Christmas Parade will roll through the streets on Thanksgiving evening, and that Christmas in the Park will open that night at Cassidy Park.
Director of Parks and Recreation Landon Tims said this year people would be able to take part in a Jingle Run/ Walk before the lights are turned on for Christmas in the Park. The route ends with a pass through the lighted park, and the event will benefit the Parks and Recreation Department.
Tims said that work had started on the walkway around the park that will finish the performance pavilion project, that the tennis courts were being “torn up,” and that the Christmas in the Park displays had been erected.
He added that he is working to get lights up at the Sports Complex soccer fields since there are two more months left in the playing season, and that work on the facility sign has been completed.
A different recreational opportunity will soon be available at the George R. Carr Memorial Airport, according to Assistant Manager Louis Busby. Fly by Knight flight school is setting up to be on-site once a week, he said.
Busby said the airport has been busy.
He said that “20 or 30” planes are based at the facility and that flyers regularly make brief stops to fuel up. On top of that, 44 flights came into Bogalusa last month alone, Busby said. The parallel taxiway now under construction at the airport is intended to attract even more.
The project to lure people downtown reportedly hit the ground running.
Mainstreet Program Manager Robin Day was absent, but numerous public servants and private citizens commended her recent attempts to revitalize Columbia Street.
Resident Nub Galloway started by thanking “the people of Bogalusa” for supporting the Harvest Festival, which was held on Oct. 26 in Columbia Street Square.
Councilman Doug Ritchie said he had “a blast watching the kids.”
“It was great,” Galloway said. “A lot of fun was had by a lot of people.”
He encouraged everybody to stay alert for news of the next downtown event.
“Bogalusa is on its way forward,” Galloway said. “But it will only get there with our help.”