The event was a gathering of local dignitaries, businessmen and every day citizens who came to listen to and ask questions of community leaders about the direction the city of Crowley and to some extent Acadia Parish and to hear about what has been accomplished over the course of the last year. This year’s speakers were Crowley Mayor Greg Jones, Acadia Parish Police Jury President A.J. “Fatty” Broussard and Acadia Parish School Superintendent John Bourque.
“I’d like to thank everybody who came and I think it’s great to see all of you so interested in our community,” said Crowley Chamber of Commerce CEO Amy Thibodeaux.
She also explained the format which was each speaker would give a synopsis of the past year, list their accomplishments and hopes for what the city could look forward to in 2013.
Mayor Jones spoke first.
“Well, we survived the flood,” he said. “In fact, the city only saw two homes that were damaged with over one foot of water in their homes. Unfortunately, Church Point took the brunt of the damage in the parish. I’d like to thank Jack (State Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley), Dan (State Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings) and Charles (U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-Louisiana) for helping us to get disaster assistance. We didn’t have to contact them they heard about it and called us.
“In so far as projects are concerned we are getting ready to do some repairs on our roads. We will be repairing Northern Avenue all the way from Eastern Avenue to Western Avenue. We have the contracts signed for the Avenue H bridge project.
“We ended the year on a positive note. We had 212 new building permits in 2011. In 2012, we had 313.”
Jones also mentioned the upcoming Carnivale d’Acadie, which he described as being “a fun, safe, family oriented celebration” and The Great Race which will be passing through Crowley on their second to last stop prior to the race’s finish as being events that were beneficial to the city.
Next up was Broussard.
“The parish is currently in a state of emergency,” he said.
He encouraged all those within the parish to record their damage so that FEMA can begin to provide assistance.
“We ended 2012 with a $39 million budget and a surplus of $1 million,” Broussard said. “We have secured a $9.5 million bond for road work on Lovell Rd. towards Ebeneezer and we are about to start of Standard Mill Rd. We are looking at grant money from the Federal Aviation Administration for getting a beacon at LeGros Airport and will be building hangers. We are looking into renovations on the south side of the Acadia Parish Courthouse, the Rice Arena and planning to build a new town hall in Morse.
“In 2010 we brought in 10 new commercial businesses to the parish.” he said.
Broussard then quoted several political figures and writers including political satirist P.J. O’Rourke who once said “giving power and money to government is like handing a set of car keys and a fifth of whiskey to a 16-year-old.”
Superintendent Bourque spoke next.
“This is my 10th year as school superintendent for the parish,” said Bourque. “We have 27 schools and three head starts, 180 buildings and provide food service for all these students and all the benefit costs have increased.
“In 2009 we had a 65 graduation percentage and last year it was 75.3 percent,” he said.
He then discussed a subject that has been on the minds of most Americans recently - school safety.
“Everyone has a right to feel safe in a school environment,” said Bourque. “Over the past decade school violence has increased by 20 percent and it still makes me wonder how a person can enter a school and hurt little children. However, violence is a community problem not a school problem. Many years ago there used to be 60 students in a class...think about that, 60 students. I think it’s because students were much more well behaved and that is due to being raised in a strong family and they knew their manners. These days if you blame parents you get fingers pointed at you.
“The bottom line is if children come from a strong family they are easy to teach...if they don’t it’s hard.”
When it came time for questions the first person to speak was Patrick McIntire, the new general manager of Lowe’s Home Improvement.
“Our company has set aside $5 million to upgrade schools,” he said. “Any type of project you need funds for we can help you with that and I’d like to speak to Superintendent Bourque about helping out.”
“The mayor wouldn’t mind speaking with you sometime either,” said Jones to the laughter of those in attendance.
Hensgens asked Mayor Jones about the progress of the Interstate 10 frontage road, which will run along the north side of the interstate and hopefully bring businesses to the area.
“We recently had a meeting at the Rice Palace and I can tell you we have one more hurdle to jump,” replied Jones. “We’ve got the road stake out. We’re moving along and progressing.”
Scott Schumacher asked Superintendent Bourque about the cost of schooling a public school student.
“We get funding for $7,000 per student,” said Bourque. “My main concern is the families these days...we have kids having kids.
“Now if we have a problem with a student we send people to their house to talk to their families. Antionette Pete is working with us on that and is doing a fantastic job.
“Our goal is to send these young people out into the world with the proper knowledge to become tax payers rather than someone who lives off the government. It’s hard to explain to people what algebra does but it’s easy today to explain what financial math does to help a student’s future.”
School Board President Doug LaCombe asked Broussard about “the $300 million project that you discussed at the last meeting we had and asked if it was coming.”
“Oh you mean the wind turbine project,” replied Broussard. “I haven’t had contact with those people since before the election and I’m not sure where that project stands at the moment.”
Schumacher then asked Broussard about the 10 businesses that he mentioned had come to the parish over the past year.
“You mentioned that 10 projects had come to the area over the last year but I was wondering about what you are planning for economic development for the next year,” Schumacher asked.
“We’ve talked about it for a long time but for whatever reason it goes nowhere,” replied Broussard. “I’m just one vote. I vote with my conscience and I sleep good at night.”
Dr. Ezora Proctor spoke up next.
“I heard you talk about the 10 businesses that came to the parish but I was wondering if you knew how many have left the parish during that time?” she asked.
“I don’t have those numbers at the moment,” replied Broussard.
“Basically, if you want business in Acadia Parish you have to be competitive,” said Crowley businessman Ted Carmichael. “When you have to pay $7,000 to build in this parish and in Lafayette and Calcasieu you don’t pay anything. It’s serious, nobody seems to think we have to bite the bullet but some things just need to change.”
Newly sworn in Acadia Parish Tax Assessor James “Jimbo” Petitjean stood up in the audience to address the complaints.
“When you talk about lost business, and this is the mayor in me speaking, I always use sales tax revenues,” he said. “Ted, I heard you talk about people wanting incentives and we want to help them. Right now we can’t even get you a map off the computer to show someone the place where they would like to build a business. We are not digitized and I’m working to get that done.”
Perhaps Chamber President Michae Hensgens ended the meeting on the most important note of the day.
“If it’s an opportunity for the parish we all need to be on board,” he said. “People who are looking to relocate businesses are also looking at other things...good schools for their kids, good people to raise them around and a nice area to live,” he said. “We’re not going to forget who brought us to the dance, we just want to get our hair done.”