Franklinton Alderman Descant hosts public forum Thursday night to discuss contentious plans for town park

Published 2:42 pm Friday, May 10, 2024

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Franklinton, LA—Councilman at large Seth Descant hosted a public forum at the Varnado House Museum annex building at 6:00 pm Thursday to discuss the issues surrounding the town park that was proposed over two years ago by Mayor Gregory Route.

About a dozen citizens attended the meeting, which was moderated by T.C. Elliot of 98.9 Cat Country radio station. Mayor Route and Councilwoman Patrice Crain had seats reserved for them but elected not to attend.

Descant began the meeting by working through the history of the proposed park, from its initial conception by Route in the summer of 2021 through July of 2023, when the discussion became heated. 5 days before the council was set to vote on it, Route signed a contract with a playground equipment company for $705,000 worth of equipment.

The original budget for the project was capped at $500,000. Learning of the Routes contract during one of the scheduled meetings, the council voted to stop the project. Alderman Descant reached out to the Louisiana Legislative Auditors Board for guidance later that week, and was informed that they could be in violation of the law if they knowingly agreed to spend money that the town’s revenues couldn’t cover.

The proposal for phase one that was presented at the meeting Thursday outlined almost 2.5 million dollars worth of cost associated with phase one of the project. It includes dirt work, landscaping, a parking lot, utilities, and everything else that is required to make the park safe and legal.

There was confusion about whether or not a $295,000 state grant was in addition to or included in the original budget, whether Route had the authority to sign a contract for equipment without the express consent of the council, and how much the project would end up costing the town. The contract signed by Route in July of 2023 also carried a 15%, or $105,750, cancellation fee, and it is unclear whether it will have be paid.

Descant and most of the attendees agreed that a town park would be a positive thing for residents and attract new businesses to the area. They also agreed that the cost had ballooned from the original discussions, and that a town of 4,500 people in an impoverished Parish had to be practical about their expectations and budget.

The audience raised concerns about the ongoing cost of the park, which include maintenance, insurance, replacing equipment as needed, and other details that the original proposal doesn’t seem to have addressed.

They were also concerned about the overall cost and whether or not taxes would be raised to make up the difference in the years to come. Descant made his position clear on the matter, stating “We are already taxed out, I wouldn’t be in favor of raising the taxes anymore, especially when things are becoming more expensive for families.”

The current deadline to hold onto the $295,000 state grant is just a few months away, and it is unlikely that the town will be able to cement a plan by then. It has been extended twice already, and extending it again would give the town another year to put the money to use.