Mayor Bob Zabbia began his annual report with words few leaders get to say, “The state of the city is financially sound and debt free.”
This positive note resonated with the enthusiastic crowd gathered at the Ponchatoula Area Recreation District in the PARD Events Building on Hoover Road, Tuesday, August 7.
“We’re in great financial shape with our main sources of revenue through property taxes, sales tax, licenses and fees,” the mayor continued. “Our cash reserves allow us to leverage funds for matching grants, meaning we are in better shape than most municipalities.”
In June, the City Council adopted the proposed $10.9 million-dollar budget which is based on sales tax collections of $405,000 or $20,000 more per month than the ’17-’18 budget. Sales tax collections remain strong with the last fiscal year being $443,000 above projections.
Other incoming funds are Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation-$125,000 and the Louisiana Public Service Commission-$100,000.
In economic development, the new nursing home on US 51 is a $20 million-dollar venture, and the new annexation of Jani-King property passed last year a proposed multimillion dollar development.
Zabbia’s years of working with other municipalities in his own profession as well as his membership on the Regional Planning Commission continue to provide him with contacts that open doors to him as mayor that often give the city a head-start on new projects.
When he became mayor 14 years ago, the assessed value of all of the property in Ponchatoula was $31.9 million dollars and the assessed value now is $54.3 million, a 70% increase since 2004 and it continues to rise!
Saving the city money at every opportunity, Ponchatoula joined Independence in combining its election with the gubernatorial election saving between $14,000 and $20,000 with which the State Legislators agreed was a good idea.
While it may appear some projects are moving slowly, most have been in the works long in advance, requiring lengthy feasibility studies and constant updates.
Among current projects already funded are Waste Water Treatment $4 million dollars; City Wide Rehabilitation of our 80-year-old sewer system; Lighting Projects on Louisiana 22 from Hoover Road to US 51 – which when completed will be the first state highway to have LED lighting thanks to the Mayor’s insistence; interstate lighting at I-55 and LA 22; lighting from LA 22 down US 51 South; and matching funds for mast arms to downtown traffic lights to modernize and alleviate some overhead wires.
More include feasibility of converting the old city hall/current police complex to a courtroom and voting precinct; improvements to City Hall parking lot and drainage improvements; upgrades of software programs; continued street overlay projects often in conjunction with the parish to further save funds; second phase of the Wellness Plaza; improvements to all City Parks with new sidewalks almost completed in heavily-used Memorial Park; new sidewalks along LA 22 and Barringer Road Sidewalk Project; additional/replacement equipment for Fire and Police Departments; Downtown Pedestrian Project; Consolidated Law Complex with Capital Outlay funds.
The mayor announced that improvements continue to be made to our water system and the long-term studies with experts in water distribution have now been completed. Tuesday, August 14, will begin the massive unidirectional flushing beginning in the southwest section of the city.
The city has been divided into three sections which will be done one at a time to have the least interruption of service.
The After-School Program brought about remarkable improvements in student tutoring both grade and behavior wise and has been expanded to include 1st and 2nd grades.
Strawberry Parking Lot Improvements on the southside added the new tourist attraction of the big strawberry that was of no cost to the city as it was provided by private donations.
The mayor said the project began after a major representative from Tourism visited the city and said that for a city known as the “Strawberry Capital of the World”, there were no strawberries visible to promote us. Mayor Zabbia expressed appreciation to businesses whose private donations have provided both the big strawberry and the strawberry planters that emphasize tourism to help our area businesses and farmers.
Mayor Zabbia’s report ended on the same positive note on which it began: with appreciative applause.