City council candidates face off in Chamber forum
Councilman Lester Levine
Councilman Chuck Autin
Candidates for two city council districts participated in a forum sponsored by the St. Mary Chamber of Commerce Monday at Teche Theatre.
Candidates first read prepared introductory statements. Jessie Breaux, emcee for the forum, then asked the candidates questions preselected by chamber staff.
The first was regarding compensation for city council members.
Mayor Pro-Tempore Lester Levine, the at-large councilman, said raises for council members have been introduced for adoption and he voted against it both times. “I didn’t get into this for the money,” Levine said. “The purpose is for you guys out there. I work for you. I did not come here to try to see how much I could benefit. It makes me feel good when somebody calls and thanks me.”
Levine said “that’s what I get out of this… not trying to see if I can make a thousand dollars a month. That’s why I’m here.”
At-large district candidate Kerry Martin said anyone who runs for city council should “do so with the intention of serving the people, in hopes to make the community a better place. If they run in hopes of making a profit they are doing a disservice to themselves and to the people.”
Martin said he is against pay raises for councilmen, saying that money could go to city employee salaries and add to city infrastructure.
Councilman Chuck Autin, District B, said serving as a city councilman is hard work. “The city charter states that the current council has to pass an ordinance to increase compensation for the next elected term of office; no ordinance changing the compensation of a council member shall be adopted during the last year of a term and no such ordinance shall become effective during the term of the council adopting the ordinance.”
Autin said that means a sitting council cannot grant themselves a pay raise.
District B candidate Brandan Trahan said he has been an active volunteer in the community, including with the city police and fire departments, Relay for Life and as a board member for the Teche Theatre for the Performing Arts among others. “All of the previous experiences have common ground, they each served to make our community a better place,” Trahan said. “And for none of these have I received compensation. While receiving money for doing something you love is always a bonus I do not feel it is required. Perhaps, then, for positions such as these we will see a decrease in politicians and an increase in community-centered citizens geared and focused on working with everyone to make Franklin all it can be.”
Breaux then asked what plans candidates have for attracting business to the city.
Levine said he and other councilmen and the mayor attend many conferences in the state each year. “There are a lot of businesses, not only that we’re trying to attract them, they’re trying to attract us to their business. We get a chance to see different businesses and talk about Franklin. The most important thing that they ask us (is) how safe are your cities?”
He said business representatives bring their families with them and “you have to sell your city to them. When I’m out at those conferences I’m taking cards and taking back to (city) administrators so they can take a look into this. That’s how you attract business.”
Martin said short-term tax exemptions can be offered to businesses willing to locate in the city, as well as tax relief to existing businesses. “When they have more money they can pay more and that’s more money in the community,” he said. “Also to attract new business we need to work with local technical colleges so that we can provide businesses with the skilled labor that’s ready to work.”
Autin said he plans to continue working for infrastructure improvements which he believes are key to attracting business. “Business leaders look at the quality of life issues when moving into an area,” Autin said. “Such as strong police protection, fire protection, water improvements, sewer improvements, garbage collection and flood protection.”
He said over the past eight years of his term on the council he has been part of many improvements such as water, sewer, flood, drainage and park improvements. Also noted was the location of Walgreens in the city.
Trahan said “active measures will be taken to not only scout out but to recruit businesses by offering special incentives such as tax breaks for their first 1-2 years in operation, knowing that businesses will draw customers which in turn will generate larger tax revenues to move Franklin forward.”
He said the presence of South Louisiana Community College and Louisiana Technical College in the city “offering skilled laborers to potential businesses will increase the chances of Franklin becoming their newest location.”
The next question was regarding damage to Franklin’s streets.
Levine said the city repaired 22 streets last year and continues to fund more repairs. “We take a survey of the streets that are real bad,” he said. “If you take all the money and do certain streets you could spend all the money on one street. So you have to split it up and get the streets you’re capable of doing and we continue to make sure we’re covering and patching them.”
Martin said the most damaged roads should be given a complete overlay first. “Then you go on to the streets that may need patch work and when you have the money in the budget you go back and repair those roads,” he said. “Start with the roads that are high-traffic areas, repair those and then overlay the other streets.”
Autin said he’ll continue to address street repairs. “I have voted to allocate over two million dollars on street improvements,” he said. “I plan to continue to allocate funds earmarked for street improvements.”
He said the city’s charter requires the council to develop a five-year capital outlay budget “in a scheduled public meeting” and streets are discussed at that time where each councilman has the opportunity to have input.
He said he immediately forwards street complaints to the administration, as the charter requires.
Trahan said “an observation in the city needs to be completed not only to look for damaged roads but to see other potential problems our city faces. The key within this process is to catch not only lingering problems that we have faced over the past few years but to also catch problems early on and rather than only patching them provide complete restoration.”
Trahan said the city “faces a problem of poorly maintained roadways and rather than fixing the problem completely small remedies such as a bucket of asphalt or tar has been laid rather than fixing the entire road. While this cure may seem to fix the problem at the present time in reality it only creates a bigger problem. Water continues to fill the hole and as a result the road begins sinking causing uneven roadways and deeper potholes.”
He said the city should think about the future “rather than only giving a temporary solution to a lingering problem.”
The candidates were asked how the city can prevent a business that might emit odors to locate in a residential area.
Levine said the city has to “make sure when another company comes that we try to get them to seek on the outside of the city limits to try to make sure we secure that community and that neighborhood. That’s something we need to work on to be sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Martin said the city council votes on zoning of businesses and can “prevent businesses with zoning requirements in residential areas.”
The zoning board handles what areas of the city a business can locate in, Autin said.
Trahan said zoning board policies and procedures have been set, and both the board and the council must decide if they will “bring another business in or risk running residents out of that neighborhood.”
Community programs in the future, Levine said in answer to the next question, include, recreation enhancements, with more funding necessary for more activities.
Summer programs that are constructive for out-of-school kids are needed at the recreation centers along with improved playground equipment, Martin said.
Autin said the city has many programs, including the Office of Community Development, which create summer programs and he said festivals and other events are held throughout the year.
Trahan said programs for the arts are needed, and that local students should know “that just because of where they come from it doesn’t hold them back for the future. Even if you don’t have money to go to college there’s still opportunities for you to go… I think through programs we can allow those students to know that they have opportunities to go out and make a name for themselves.”