Parish council plans no change to millage rate

Published 7:12 am Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Washington Parish Council met for a routine meeting Monday and approved the introduction of a variety of new ordinances.

Each of the ordinances will be formally adopted or rejected at the next council meeting.

The ordinances ranged from the specific, like setting the millage rates for 2016 and adjusting the compensation of the parish clerk and council, to a resolution to consider amendments to the home charter rule.

Across the parish, taxes will on average be a bit higher than last year because homes have been assessed at a higher value, but the rate remains unchanged. Donna Graham, the director of finances for the parish, called the increase “minimal” and it will only bring in an additional $9,421.68 to the parish.

The council also introduced an ordinance that will tighten up standards on manufactured and mobile homes and recreational vehicle parks. The new standards are intended to make the structures safer and storm-resilient, among other advantages.

The big potential changes that could come from revisiting and amending the home rule charter are wholly unknown. Council attorney Wayne Kuhn said the process for amending the charter is lengthy, must go through a committee and then the changes will have to be approved by voters. Councilman Michael Fussell said the resolution on Monday was intended to simply review the existing charter and consider whether it needed any updates.

“There are some provisions that we think need updating,” he said. “There are things that have changed in the last 10, 12 or 15 years.”

Councilman Chris Workman asked if members of the parish council could serve on the commission to review the home rule charter and Kuhn said they could, as no one on the commission would receive any pay.

Finally, the council approved suggesting a replacement for a replacement of District 7 Justice of the Peace Darwin Sharp, who moved away from the area. Kuhn said that Sharp’s move forced him to resign, and now the state Supreme Court is seeking to fill the interim position and the court is seeking input from the council.

“The appointment comes from the Supreme Court, but the council can make a recommendation,” Kuhn said.

Kuhn added that since there is a year left in the term, the governor will call a special election at some point and that whoever fills the interim position cannot run. He then suggested Billy Passman take over the role as justice of the peace as Passman had expressed interest. David Anthony, who represents District 7 on the council, said he agreed with the recommendation and the council approved recommending Passman.

After that, Henry Harrison, the LSU agriculture agent for the parish, gave his quarterly report and it was all good news.

“We’ve had a tremendous season this year on our watermelons and we’ve done some promotions and other things that have promoted this crop greatly,” he said.

Harrison explained that two television news crews did stories on the parish’s famous food crop and he added that this has been a good year for vegetables in general in Washington Parish.

Parish President Richard Thomas praised this year’s watermelon crop.

“I don’t grow watermelons, but I ate a lot this year and they were as good as I’ve ever eaten,” he said.

Following that, the council opened the floor up to public comments.

Ginger Corkern spoke first and she expressed concern about the parish’s communications center. The center was built after Hurricane Katrina as a central location for directing emergency communications.

Corkern accused the parish of under-utilizing the center and said she worried that if there were a hurricane or some other natural or manmade disaster, Washington Parish wouldn’t have any way to get out information.

“There is a tax on every home phone bill in this parish monthly to help fund it. I don’t know where that money is going,” she said.

Thomas said he would be happy to meet with her in private to discuss her concerns.

Corkern also expressed a desire to better care for homeless animals. The parish is wrapping up construction on an animal shelter, but it’s not clear how it will be operated day to day.

“I’ve been going down the road and I’ve just been seeing more and more animals that are horrible physical shape,” she asked the council. “So what’s being done and how are we going to staff the shelter?”

No one on the council had any immediate response.

After that, Phillipp Bedwell announced some possible good news.

Bedwell said the Zachary Taylor Parkway is looking to create some promotional tools that will encourage motorists who drive along the parkway to visit interesting or scenic locations along the way. The parkway is intended to begin in Poplarville, Miss., and then cut through Washington Parish, running through Bogalusa and Franklinton and then climb northwest until its terminus in Alexandria. The scenic parkway is intended to compare with the Natchez Trace in Mississippi and Tennessee. While Bedwell said there is still no money for any road construction, plans are moving forward to create online and paper promotional materials.

“They’re going to develop apps and maps for tourist things to do in each parish,” he said.

Bedwell said he’s hoping to set up a meeting in Washington Parish sometime in September, “so we can get a jump on what we can do, so that they will help us out.”

Bedwell said he expects the parkway will one day be a four-lane highway, although he said there’s no timeline for any of that.

After public comments, Thomas introduced Gary McGee, a brother of Bogalusa civil rights leader A. Z. Young, and McGee’s wife and son. Earlier this month, Young’s home in Bogalusa was recognized with a marker. At that ceremony, Thomas read a parish proclamation recognizing the significance of Young’s achievements and he read that proclamation again Monday.

Young served in World War II and then returned to his then-segregated hometown to lead the political movement that would eventually secure greater freedom for African-Americans. Young led the movement to integrate the paper mill and he led a march from Bogalusa to Baton Rouge. Young would go on to work for the governor’s office and after he died, in 1993, he was the first African American to lie in state in the capitol building. However, while he had been recognized in Baton Rouge, he has had no official recognition in his hometown until his home was recognized.

Thomas said he hoped Young would get more attention.

“I think there needs to be more as tribute in Washington Parish for the things he’s done in his lifetime. I love history. It teaches us how to go into the future,” Thomas said.

After that, Thomas asked that Russell Knight be appointed to replace his father, Wayne Knight, on the board of Riverside Medical Center. The elder Knight died in May, and his term will end in December. The board approved the pick, although Anthony voted against the appointment.

The next meeting will be Monday, Aug. 8, at 6 p.m.