Plaq. officials eye major road program in this new fiscal year

DEIDRE CRUSE, Governmental Reporter

Plaquemine city officials are hoping to add an $11 million to $12 million citywide road program to their 2009-10 city budget that already includes major capital outlay projects, Mayor Mark A. “Tony' Gulotta told the POST/SOUTH last week.

The road project would be the first major overhaul of city streets since a 1992 program started the year before Gulotta first took office as mayor. He said he and the Board of Selectmen plan to pay off the $1.5 million in bonds left on that project this year, ahead of the 2012 due date, and used the sales tax that backed them to finance a new bond issue.

When the last bonds were sold, the city was required to hold a year's worth of bond payments in reserve, the mayor said. He and city officials let the interest on the money roll over, so the reserve account has built to $1.6 million, enough to make the final three payments.

The city has dedicated its share of the proceeds of a two-third cent parish wide sales tax to maintaining road. Once the old bond issue has been paid off, the city will use the tax to finance a new bond issue for the upcoming road program, Gulotta said.

The interest rate on new bonds currently is in the three percent range, the mayor said, making it a good time to finance the project. Additionally, the cost of road construction projects, which soared after Hurricane Katrina, has dropped substantially, both as a result of the recession and lower oil prices. Asphalt, for example, is petroleum based.

During the 2008-09 fiscal year, which ended Saturday, the city's engineers, Professional Engineering Consultants, have been assessing the city's sewer lines and other utilities.

Mayor Gulotta said the city would spend some $2.5 million to repair infrastructure before starting to build the new roads. The work will include repairing the sewer lines with the most leaks, moving natural gas lines from the middle of roadways, and relocating some water lines, especially problematic old lines on La. 1.

Once the city repairs the troublesome water lines on La. 1, he said, he hopes the state will overlay the state highway through Plaquemine. Gulotta said he talked last week to state Rep. Karen St. Germain about getting the project on the state schedule.

The first of the city projects of the new fiscal year – a $2.5 million trunk line that will carry the city's treated sewage to the Mississippi River instead of Bayou Plaquemine -- is scheduled to get underway this week, the mayor told the Board of Selectmen at its meeting last week.

The contractor on the project had moved 28 truckloads of pipe here and would have started last week except for the rain, the mayor said. The project will take about a year to complete.

Diverting the city's treated wastewater to the river is a first step in correcting the city's problems with occasional violations of its wastewater discharge permit. The state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) had threatened sanctions against the city for violations at the South Wastewater Treatment Plant, but is in concurrence with the city's plans for improvements.

Eventually, the trunk line will connect to a new sewage treatment plant on land the city has already purchased off Tenant Road. The new plant would replace the overloaded South plant, and is planned as a regional treatment plant for the Plaquemine area that could cost upwards of $10 million. City officials are still looking at ways to finance the project.

In the meantime, the city will begin site preparations for the new plant to give the project a head start, the mayor said.

The trunk line was part of the $21.2 million total budget the city council approved unanimously last week. Finance Director Laurie Bertha lot said. She said the amount includes some $7.9 million in spending on the “city side” of Plaquemine's government and the rest for City Light and Water.

The city will tap into its $19 million fund balance to balance this year's budget, the finance director said.

Berthelot said there would not be a net loss, except that the budget includes $1 million for a pavilion at Bayou Plaquemine Waterfront Park.

Gulotta said the city has hired architect Brad Guerin of Fusion Architecture to design the pavilion.

The new budget also includes $250,00 for a new roof and windows at the City of Plaquemine Activity Center (COPAC), $10,000 for public address systems at the COPAC gym and field, and $50,000 for renovations of the old bathhouse at City Park.

Other major capital outlaw items include $250,000 for a new fire truck; $192,000 for a streetscape on La. 1, with funding that includes a $172,4000 federal grant; $80,000 for sidewalk improvments; $14,000 to improve parking at the Department of Motor Vehicles' office, and $80,000 to renovate the city clerk's office at City Hall.

City employees are in for a three percent across the board raise and the addition of dental insurance to their health policies.

Mayor Gulotta said the city workers had requested dental insurance, which will cost the city some $26,000 on the city side of government. As with health insurance policies, the city will pay 70 percent of the cost, with employees picking up the rest.