Well before time to start, Kiwanis Club members continued to bring out more tables and chairs as the growing crowd arrived to hear Mayor Bob Zabbia deliver the annual State of the City address.
“I never dreamed there’d be this many people,” a newcomer said.
“People always turn out to hear good news,” a long-time resident explained expectantly.
And good news it was!
Mayor Zabbia began by thanking Kiwanians, the Chamber of Commerce, Kane’s Deli and First Guaranty Bank for sponsoring the luncheon event and throughout his address added to the list the various “teams” who work together with him to bring about such a good report.
After paying tribute to First Lady Kim, he expressed appreciation to his staff inside City Hall and street workers for their teamwork even during the recent storm watch, including thanks to Tangipahoa Parish OEP and radio station 96.5 as well.
He continued with, “The city is financially strong, debt-free. Some towns have to work at meeting just the general monthly expenses. But we are frugal with expenditures and thanks to Rhonda Sheridan and Judy Cordoba, we put some back in reserve this year.”
(In a past interview, Finance Manager Cheryl Hoover said at a state meeting Ponchatoula had been the only city represented that had an emergency fund.)
The mayor spoke of the grants that have made so many projects possible for the city: “The 100% grants no longer exist but our excellent financial condition allows us to maximize our ability to obtain matching grant funding,”
The adoption of the $10.7 million City Budget in June includes several Capital Improvements Projects and funding for ongoing projects and is based on revenues of $6 million and expenditures of $10.7 million.
Projected sales tax collections are estimated to just under $5 million with monthly collections of $415,000 and expected to continue the upward trend.
Commercial and residential permits are also expected to continue but at a slower rate as in the past.
Fascinating was how the assessed valuation has increased by almost 80% from 2004’s $32 million to today’s $57 million.
No increases in utility fees are expected other than to normal Consumer Price Index related to garbage contracts that will be re-bid this year. Hammond and Ponchatoula join together for garbage pick-up and recycling to get the best fees for their citizens but a disappointment is the lack of interest in recycling. Having fewer garbage contractors means the possibility of having pick-up only weekly which Zabbia does not want so is looking into what can be done.
Speaking of October’s statewide, parish and local elections (Mayor, Police Chief and Council), the mayor stressed, “Very important is the City renewal of the 10 mil tax for police and fire protection and salaries.”
The Police Department, he said, feels “as if it’s in the Hilton” in its new $2 million complex and has a budget of $2.88 million. The old city hall that housed part of the department is being remodeled, all in-house, to contain the court, the voting precinct and the office of downtown development’s new director, Faith Allen.
Mayor Zabbia explained how projects have to go through so many channels that some take years, “Patience is the key in obtaining grant funding.”
As an example, he cited the Highway 22 Sidewalk Project has been in the works for four years but will advertise for bids in 30 days. Similar projects underway are Barringer Road sidewalks, Downtown Cityscape to include handicap sidewalks, pedestrian signal crossings and landscaping; completion of Hickory Street Parking; establishment of a Downtown Development District; incentive raise for all employees; annual street overlay improvements; water and sewer improvement; new investors such as Jani-King; the After School Program; lighting improvement with LED lights (brighter and less cost monthly to City), communications equipment to Police Department; parking improvements: school resource officer; street department equipment; improvements to Community Center; new software soon coming for the court and general operations.
In the past 15 years, the City has received $15.1 million in state and federal grants with $7.4 million in the last year alone. These are reflected in the Public Service Commission Lighting funds; $1.4 million citywide sewer rehabilitation grant; LCBDG/Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation $1 million/$125,000/$280,000 local.
To be current on what is available, the mayor has been a member of the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission since 2012. This monthly meeting gives him a unique advantage over most mayors.
Combining this membership with his 40 years of personal business has led to even more relationships that help the city.
Mayor Zabbia shared a recent experience in which department heads were feeling overwhelmed receiving a new order to meet a regulation that would have meant months more work and expense to the city.
Knowing the city has met all stipulations, he contacted a fellow member who’s sat back to back with him at meetings through the years.
Moved emotionally in the telling, the mayor said because of that relationship, Ponchatoula was able to get what seemed to be impossible – a waiver!
Thus the State of the City address concluded as it had begun, an expression of gratitude for all the teamwork that helps Mayor Zabbia “take
care” of the Ponchatoula he loves.