Often, visitors and even leaders of other municipalities are astounded at the number of projects completed, underway or planned for the future by the City of Ponchatoula, asking how so much can be accomplished by a town this size.
A simple “It’s a lot of work by a lot of people” is offered and true but doesn’t begin to answer the question even in just one area, that of state Capital Outlay Funds so beneficial to Ponchatoula.
Recently at City Hall, Executive Assistant to the Mayor, Rhonda Sheridan, shed light on what goes on behind the scenes as she described the importance of keeping up-to-date with the latest government requirements. Two agencies all cities must register with are System for Award Management (SAMS.gov) and DUNS (Dun and Bradstreet), major hubs for grant projects.
“State agencies assign each municipality certain codes that are required for a city to stay in the state database. Password changes are ongoing and required from every thirty to ninety days,” she said. “One cannot even ‘talk’ to someone at state level without proper codes.”
Pointing to work areas and file cabinets stacked with project folders, Sheridan continued: “Just keeping up with those codes and passwords could be a full-time job. Numerous municipalities seeing our successes call for our office’s help in getting started but when they see the tremendous amount of work necessary to try to get help from the state, many soon give up. But it’s necessary. Another necessity, along with the gigantic amount of paper work, is a good respectful working relationship with the people in each organization or department at the state level. We are fortunate to have this.”
Sheridan used two current major projects to explain further – the new downtown parking lot and the Consolidated Law Complex.
“For each of these, we work with the Division of Administration Office of Facility Planning and Control to apply for capital outlay funds.”
For background on the two properties, Sheridan told about the good working relationship the city has had with First Guaranty Bank along the way, how the former bank on North Sixth for some two or three years was already housing Ponchatoula detectives and evidence room in the west side of the building for one dollar a year and their utilities while the bank was fully operational on the east side.
“The goal of the city has been to have all Law Enforcement under one roof and First Guaranty was helpful in offering to sell each property for less than appraisal value, the second being the vacant lot at the corner of West Hickory and North Sixth, which when completed will park some ninety vehicles along with charging stations for electric cars,” she continued.
Her example: “The appraised price of the parking lot was $666,000 and First Guaranty asked $500,000. The city applied for capital outlay funds for this amount, was approved, and pays only 25% of that amount.”
The bids brought in Duplantis Engineering with Chad Danos and Civil Design, Tommy Buckles. Foret Construction of Thibodeaux is in charge of building the parking lot.
Sheridan said another help to the city is that from Mayor Bob Zabbia’s forty-five years’ private practice with engineering firms, he is able to do some of the preparatory study and work with a savings from $1,500 upward on each project that other municipalities have to pay outsiders to do.
When Mayor Zabbia joined the interview, he said, “A big help is that Ponchatoula is one of few municipalities that is debt free.”
He added, “Unfortunately, part of this was due from the misfortune of others. When so many Katrina victims relocated here, they had to buy everything to start over. Taxes soared from their purchases. So, being debt free, when we are approved for capital outlay funds, we are able to pay our 25% immediately.”
He credited former State Representative Tank Powell, Senator Bodi White and State Representative Steve Pugh for their assistance at the state level for Ponchatoula’s progress.
Asked about City Council monthly meetings, Sheridan said that agendas go out to each member the Wednesday before the regular Monday evening meetings.
The mayor added that because immediate action is sometimes required when members cannot meet, the Council passed a resolution authorizing the mayor to act, signing to expedite or complete a project rather than wait until the next meeting.
For the future, one of the biggest and most expensive proposed rehabilitations for which state capital outlay funds will be sought is the major sewerage renovation when a “leak” test (smoke test) will be run throughout the whole city and an engineering firm will evaluate and put a price tag on the project. This could be one million dollars.
The mayor says that with the state finances in their current condition, only time will tell how much money can be available to municipalities.