City gets good audit

Published 6:30 am Friday, July 22, 2016

The city received some positive financial news at the council meeting Tuesday.

Bob Neilson, an auditor, presented the council with his audit report and he gave the city the best financial bill of health he could, an unmodified opinion. In addition, he praised the city’s leadership for their fiscal conservation and pointed out that in December 2014, the city had a $1.3 million deficit and in December 2015, the city had a quarter of a million in the bank.

“The taxpayers of Bogalusa certainly had their money well managed in 2015,” he said.

This brought a round of applause from the city council.

The council then recognized Bogalusa High School graduate Maya Tate as valedictorian. Tate will be attending Louisiana State University and she told the council she would like to become a neurosurgeon.

The council was two members short, with President Sherry Fortenberry and Andy Deleon both absent. Vice President Tamira Smith helmed the meeting, and the first order of business was adopting a resolution to adopt a grievance procedure for the Community Development Block Grant program.

The board then introduced ordinances to purchase aviation easements for eight properties under the flight path near the municipal airport. The easements would mean some trees would either be cut down entirely or trimmed to allow airplanes easier and safer access to the landing strip.

One of the property owners, Arthur Mixon, seemed to oppose the easement ordinance, even though if it passes the city will then purchase the easements from the property owners at $1,300 per tree, according to Mayor Wendy Perrette.

Mixon said the price “was an insult to my intelligence,” and he added that chopping down or trimming trees on his property would have a negative impact on his heritage.

“Money is not everything,” Mixon said. “They’re taking away part of my heritage and I can’t do anything with it. That’s why I’m concerned with it.”

Mixon also wanted to know exactly how it would benefit the city of Bogalusa. Councilman Doug Ritchie said he couldn’t point to an exact dollar amount, but he said pilot safety would benefit and he pointed out that the airport is well used by International Paper and other businesses.

“Those are the economic reasons, but I couldn’t tell you on the dollar amount,” he said.

The city council then adopted ordinances to set ad valorem tax rates as required by law and to close an undeveloped alleyway located on Avenue I.

Ritchie explained that when an alleyway is abandoned, adjacent property owners split it down the middle.

After that, the council agenda called for a vote on two proposed laws, one of which would limit yard sales to specific days and another would raise the fees for mobile vendors. Both ordinances were tabled.

“My concern is if we limit it to those times of the month only, No. 1, how are we going to enforce it and then also how are we going to make it fair for everyone involved,” said council member Teddy Drummond, who had introduced the yard sale ordinance.

In her comments to the council, Perrette said Cassidy Park repairs are going well. The city had planned to open the park back up July 25, but she said new grass was just planted in the park, so the city will give that a few weeks to grow before the gates are open.

After that, members of the audience spoke, many of them expressing support for the police in the wake of police murders in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

Foots Quinn expressed support for police, though he said he believes the police have been concentrating on too minor of problems, including open containers and seat belt violations and tickets for walking in Cassidy Park. He said he hopes Cassidy Park will be open soon. He also said he didn’t support the city’s requirement for home improvement permits.

“I think that’s taking away too much from our liberty,” he said.

Then Jason Arceneaux spoke and he also came out in favor of the police and educators. He then suggested that city leaders visit school classrooms.

Next, Joel Miller spoke and he suggested police officers get training for how to deal with hysterical people.

He said his grandson was kidnapped by a parent who was not supposed to have custody of the boy, and when the mother went to complain to the police, she was “hysterical” and a police officer refused to help her until she calmed down.

“He told her he refused to help her because she was hysterical,” Miller said. “I would like to see officers be trained to deal with parents who come when their children have been kidnapped.”

Miller said eventually an officer did help and the child was recovered, unharmed.

Miller then criticized the city for not paving all of Martin Luther King Drive. The city hadn’t planned on paving any of the street, but when money was leftover from a recent paving job, the city directed for the remainder to be spent on MLK Drive. However, the money didn’t go far enough and the shoulders have not yet been paved. Miller also said he didn’t believe the company that paved the roads did a good job.

“I am not no engineer, but I know when the job is done and when it is not done,” he said.

Fate Ferrell then spoke and he said he wanted more action to come from the town hall meetings. So far, neither the city council nor any other public body has acted on any of the ideas that have arisen from the town hall meetings. Ferrell said someone should be held responsible for acting on the ideas.

He also said the city needs to pick a good police chief and he suggested supporting police.

“We need to unite and come together with the police. I don’t hate the police. I really don’t,” he said.

Ferrell also criticized the mayor for leaving the meeting early when she left to sign some tax documents.

Kim Cook then spoke, and suggested police get more training in ethics. Cook said she used to be a police officer, and said officers don’t get enough training in that issue. She also said she was opposed to raising fees on vendors, although she initially mistakenly believed that fee would be applied to brick-and-mortar vendors. The fee will only be applied to rolling vendors, people who sell things from a vehicle or cart or other mobile unit. Those vendors do not pay sales tax.

When Ritchie explained this, Cook said, “Oh! I agree with that. That does take money from the city.”

Cook also said she knows of several businesses that do not have business licenses.

The meeting ended with general comments from council members, most of whom suggested praying for the city.

The next meeting will be Tuesday, Aug. 2, at 5:30 p.m.