Patterson forged closer community ties in 2011

By: JEAN L. KAESS

With just about one year in office, the mayor of Patterson has a lot to reflect on.

Mayor Rodney Grogan took office in January, along with his council. The group ran with the concept of working collaboratively on every level from the executive office to the council, city employees and on down to every member of the community. The result, Grogan says, is an involved community in its totality.

Discussions with each level of government result in mutual agreement between the council and the community instead of disconnects in communication.

Establishing that process, though, hasn’t been easy. Trust has to be built, and it’s taken the better part of the year to make it happen, Grogan said.

The result has been a community that can move toward service.

A couple of new community developments include a successful summer program that was expected to have 40 participants and brought about 110. Carl Butler worked as the city’s liaison, but it was the Friends of the Patterson Community Center who administered the program.

Also, the city sponsored its recent Christmas parade for the first time in recent memory. Grogan said employees took organizing the event as a learning experience and brought 52 units into the parade.

With community involvement such a strong focus of this administration, it’s no wonder that school partnerships have been initiated.

At Patterson High School, the Community Helping Hands club has kicked off. Often working in partnership with the city, the service group sponsored the city’s first Christmas festival following the Christmas parade recently. Held in conjunction with Word of Life Family Church, more than 200 people were in attendance.

The mayor teaches drug and alcohol prevention skills at Patterson Junior High School.

Also, land near PJHS will be utilized by citizens and schools to cultivate produce for sale if a grant through Blue Cross’ Healthy Initiatives is received. The $500 grant for seeds would enable the city to have its own farmer’s market, the mayor said.

Over at Hattie Watts Elementary School, work is ongoing to secure a grant that will resurrect a music program for youngsters. Also, the mayor said, he would be remiss if he did not mention Hattie Watts’ designation as one of only 305 schools named as a 2011 National Blue Ribbon School.

On the recreational front, about 30 acres of land was donated for the city’s use until it can be sold by the owner. That land on Veterans Drive will be used to start a city soccer league, the mayor said.

While lights have been repaired on tennis courts and the basketball courts are back in action, there is no access to recreation for children south of the railroad tracks without having to cross U.S. 90. The soccer field will help to alleviate that problem, the mayor said. Councilman John Rentrop and his wife are providing funding for the fledgling program.

Looking toward the future, the mayor said Catherine Street is where growth, both recreationally and commercially, will be found.

“Hope, life, the future is right there,” he said of the area.

In addition to the ongoing construction of a new dollar store on the street, Grogan said plans are in the works for a water park nearby.

He described it as larger than Siracusaville’s water park, but smaller than Bayou Vista’s spray park. It will be constructed on land that was donated to the city with the stipulation that it be utilized for recreational purposes but returned if nothing was done with it. Grants are in the works to fund the project, which could be running as soon as this summer, the mayor said.

A walking/bike trail also are planned that will make a general loop from Main Street to Red Cypress, along U.S. 90 and down Catherine Street. Similar to what was done in Berwick, a contractor will be used for small portions of the project but the largest extent will be done by city workers, Grogan said.

These trails are in addition to the sidewalks that are due to begin construction shortly on Catherine Street. That project has been in the works since 2006.

In January, the first in a series of meetings establishing a Main Street Program for the City of Patterson will be held. Business leaders from all walks of life have been invited to participate.

This goes hand-in-hand with changes on the business side of city hall’s dealings.

After a snafu with a boil order earlier this year, the city began utilizing the First Call system and the old fire horn in case of problems or emergencies.

“The scale of what took place is only preparation for hurricanes and such,” Grogan said at the time.

He maintains that such still is the case with city hall’s mold problems.

Built in 2002 at a cost of around $1.77 million, the city hall/jail complex is less than 10 years old but has a severe mold infestation requiring immediate remediation.

An emergency was declared during a special meeting of the council earlier this month so the city could spend $92,000 immediately to have the mold removed.

Both the city hall and the police department were temporarily relocated, but the police department has moved back to its original home. As of this writing, prisoners were not being housed at the jail as the city was awaiting Department of Health and Hospitals approval to move them back into the city jail.

All costs currently are coming out of the general fund, but the city’s insurance has a bacteria/fungi clause that is supposed to pay costs of remediation as well as any costs to continue the operation of city business.

There is no estimate of cost on repairs once the remediation is complete. That depends largely on how much of the building must be destroyed to clean it properly. The mayor will take three bids on the work at that time and award a contract to the lowest bid.

Those bids are not in yet because the scope of the work has not been defined.

Grogan said he has taken this project as a learning experience. With the size of the project and its suddenness, “I do believe it’s training for what’s to come,” he said.

Another massive project, this one planned, is the city’s water plant construction.

The $8.9 million project is necessary to replace the current infrastructure that is nearing 70 years old.

Residents passed a 12.41-mill property tax April 30 to pay for $5 million in bank loans for the plant replacement. However, engineers currently estimate the project will cost closer to $9 million.

The project will be financed in two parts:

—$5 million loaned by two local banks. That amount would be paid back with the money raised by the 12.41 mills residents will pay annually in property taxes. That amount is expected to generate $280,000 annually. However, if it does not, the tax can be increased after the first year.

—$5 million in the form of a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan with a 3 percent fixed rate payable over 30 to 40 years. This is the current estimate based on the city’s most recent audit. Another audit is due at the end of the calendar year, along with the USDA’s new budget. This amount would be paid with user fees.

In order to accommodate the payment of the USDA loan and operating expenses, the city needs to generate approximately $1.2 million annually through user fees — essentially, from residential and commercial water bills. The only way to do that is to restructure and increase rates. No date has been set for that change.

Currently, Gulf South Engineers are designing plans for the plant that will meet specifications set forth by the USDA. They have had to go back to the drawing board a couple times, Grogan said, because the plans were not up to federal specifications.

With all these projects in the works, Patterson is going to be busy in the coming year.

“We’re on the move,” Grogan concluded.

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