VPCC proposes yearly budget
The Ville Platte City Council began their teleconference meeting with three minutes of silence for Michael Arvie who was beaten and hospitalized last week after allegedly committing theft. After the three-minute silence, the council took a knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the same amount of time a police officer kneeled on George Floyd’s neck, ultimately leading to his death which sparked protests and rioting across the nation.
After the moments of silence, the council began regular proceedings. The new fiscal year budget was proposed. The ending fund balance for the 2019 fiscal year is $14,609,791. The new budget is $13,498,258. Mayor Jennifer Vidrine said there were increases in police and fire retirement and health insurance. The police department budget will see a significant increase which provides for 16 officers (14 patrolmen, two detectives). Also included in this budget is an officer training consultant who will train the officers on the right and wrong things to do such as proper techniques. “There are a lot of people talking about defunding police departments, well we’re doing just the opposite. We’re adding over $300,000 more to our police department,” said Vidrine.
Councilman Bryant Riggs said more citations need to be issued. He also asked the chief when vetting officers, to ask officers who used to work in the city and left, why they want to come back. He then commended the police on the good work they have been doing. He said there are “people out there saying we don’t need the police. The majority of police officers are good. I wore the badge.”
Vidrine agreed, saying, “That’s the point that we want to address. Just because there are one or two bad police officers who do bad things, that does not reflect on the entire department. Especially here, we have some good policemen. That’s not only with the city, but also with the sheriff’s department. We are fortunate to know them all. We can have conversations with them.” She said the council does not want the public to “take what’s happened in the last few weeks to be reflective of all police departments and all police officers.” She added there are good officers who are dedicated, going to work every day to protect and to serve.
Additionally, Vidrine spoke about the Black Lives Matter movement. “Yes, black lives matter, and yes all lives matter, but the situation now is that a disproportionate amount of black lives have been taken because of allegedly bad police officers. But we want the police to know we love the men and women in blue, and we support them, and we support the devotion to the job.” She said the council will continue to try to do everything they can to support the police department. She added she wants the police to be present in the neighborhoods and wants the community to know them and feel safe.
Vidrine announced there will be a police sub-station located at the Ville Platte Housing Authority. The sub-station, paid for and funded by the Housing Authority, will be fully equipped with the necessary technology and signage. The sub-station will be operational in July. “It will provide a police presence in that area for the safety of the residents and community. We thank the Ville Platte Housing Authority Board for its generosity and concern for our citizens,” said Vidrine.
Police Chief Neil Lartigue said he is hiring three new officers. He said the police department responded to 102 calls for assistance. There were 26 arrests, including 13 felony arrests.
Further in the budget, Vidrine said, in utilities, there was $1.2 million in depreciation for all of the departments combined. She said this is “not a deficit, not a loss, but a depreciation.” Depreciation is merely a way to spread large expenses over a number of years. Calculating losses plus depreciation, they wound up with a profit. The sewer department, for example, had a loss of $149,379. However, added with the depreciation of $270,000, there is a profit of $120,621. City-wide, there is a surplus of $317,292 in the budget.
The budget is available to view at City Hall by appointment, due to COVID-19, for the next nine days. There will be a special meeting June 26 at noon to pass the budget.
Vidrine reminded citizens the police and fire tax renewal will be on the ballot for the July 11 election. “We’re doing everything we can to increase the budget to make sure there will be enough there to provide services, so we are asking the public to support that.”
Councilwoman Faye Lemoine said, since they are starting a new fiscal year, “it’s time to get some things done.” She reminded the council they started talking about a prisoner clean-up crew in December. She said they have it in the budget to purchase a backhoe. “Hurricane season is coming, the canals have not been cleaned, the ditches have not been cleaned. We can’t keep putting things off,” said Lemoine.
Lemoine also said she was contacted by Desperate Dogs of Rural Louisiana who volunteer their time at the dog pound, walking dogs and taking them to the vet. She said it is difficult for the two men who work at the pound because they have other jobs and responsibilities. Lemoine said of the dogs, “If we want to get rid of them, they have to be vetted. They need rabies shots, and they have to get tested for heart worms.” She said the rescue group has homed over 90 dogs, some going to other states. “We need to give them our support because they’re doing good work.”
The mayor said some things are on the list to get done, but companies have been put on hold due to the pandemic. The purchase of the backhoe is part of the new budget.
Vidrine announced the COVID-19 curfew is now changed to 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. for adults and businesses. For children under 18, the curfew remains 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. This will last through Phase II of reopening the state. Phase II will continue until June 25, at which time the governor will determine whether or not to enter Phase III.
City Hall is still closed to the public until further notice until safety measures can be put in place. Full services are available to the public through phone call, online, or drop box for payments. The Civic Center is not available during Phase II because of the State Fire Marshal’s orders. Vidrine said Phase III regulations are not yet known.
COVID-19 testing is now moving to the elderly complexes. The mobile unit will be at Chateau Des Amis today from 10 a.m. to noon. On June 18, it will be at Annie Mae’s Prayer Garden Apartments and Pop George’s. Then, on June 22, it will be at Village de Memoire where residents and staff may be tested. After the elderly complexes, testing will resume at the Civic Center on Mondays. Vidrine said they will venture out to Chataignier, L’anse aux Pailles, Point Blue, and other areas. Testing is free of charge.