VP mayor stresses mandatory practices during council meeting
At Tuesday’s Ville Platte city council meeting, held via teleconference, Mayor Jennifer Vidrine addressed the city’s steps for moving into Phase One of Governor Edwards’ decision to open up the state. She listed guidelines for citizens and businesses and reiterated the city’s authority when it comes to the curfew and mandatory practices for businesses.
The council voted unanimously to maintain the curfew which has been in place since the stay-at-home order was enacted by the governor, with Vidrine saying, “Even though we are in Phase One, we are still under a declaration of emergency, and we still have the authority to maintain the curfew until further notice.” The curfew is 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. for adults and businesses, and 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. for children 17 years and younger. She said the curfew has “helped tremendously.” Additionally, she said she has been getting public feedback commending the curfew and added, “The streets are quiet. Crime has gone down tremendously. People feel safe.” Police Chief Neil Lartigue agreed with the mayor, saying, “The streets are very good.”
Vidrine said all city employees will be back working five days a week starting Monday, but City Hall is not ready to be open to the public yet, because they have to get protective plexiglass barriers over the desks. They are also getting markers for the floor because people will still have to be six feet apart. Hand sanitizers will also be placed at the door for people to use coming in and leaving the building. Until City Hall is fitted and sanitized, they will be closed until further notice. Citizens can still pay bills at the drop box in the drive thru, pay online, or mail in payments. People who need permits can call and make an appointment for a clerk to help them at the window. She also said they are not going to cut off anyone’s utilities right now.
“All of our employees have been tested, including fire and police departments, the city marshal, as well as the Sheriff department,” said Vidrine. “Employees at City Hall must wear a mask. If they are not wearing a mask, they will be sent home.” She also said the staff will have temperature checks daily. Outdoor employees have gloves, masks, and disinfectants, and are only allowed to have two workers per city truck, with one driver, and the other employee in the back of the truck to maintain social distancing. Vidrine wants the public to know they are still taking calls for any problems the community may have.
Aside from city employees having to wear masks, Vidrine said all employees and employers in the city of Ville Platte must wear masks, saying it is not a request but a mandate and said, legally, it can be enforced. This is due to the governor’s Stay-at-Home order which states “All businesses shall require that any owner or employee having interaction or contact with the public shall wear a mask or face covering.” Businesses not in compliance could face disciplinary action from the Fire Marshal. The Stay-at-Home order will be lifted Friday, however the mask requirement for businesses is expected to be included in Phase One of re-opening. Vidrine strongly encouraged businesses to require customers to wear masks, as well.
Phase 1 is set to end June 5. Businesses that are opening can only have 25% capacity and have to practice social distancing. This includes churches. Vidrine said she has consistently spoken with health officials and advises caution when opening up for business as usual. “If we move too fast we could jeopardize ourselves.”
Vidrine also announced April sales taxes were down -9.27% due to COVID-19, which she said was expected and added they are still working on the budget which will be ready toward the end of June. She said the third government stimulus package does not have money set aside for local governments. She said she has been on the phone with Senator Bill Cassidy, asking for funding. “We’re letting them know the cities and municipalities are hurting,” said Vidrine. “The governor is sympathetic and compassionate about rural areas like ours losing revenue. This is a very fluid situation with things changing every day. Every type of grant that can help us, we are applying for it. Everything we’re spending related to COVID-19, we’re labeling that, so hopefully FEMA will reimburse us.”
Vidrine furhter announced there will be another round of COVID-19 testing Monday, May 18 from 10:00 a.m. to noon. The number to call to register is 337-678-9000. There is no charge, and no one will be turned away. An ID is required. If you have an insurance card, present it, but there will be no co-pay. The test is free of charge. Anyone can be tested, with or without symptoms. “Hopefully people can continue to take this virus seriously,” said Vidrine. “Stay home, get out only when you have to, wear a mask.”
Even though crime has been improving due to the curfew, there are still some areas which need attention. Councilman Bryant Riggs mentioned shootings at Parkview and asked the chief about getting officers there. The Housing Authority has a contract with the police department to provide security. Officers are there Thursday through Sunday, but when the housing authority obtains more funding, officers will be there seven days a week. Lartigue reported in the month of April arrests were down 22 for misdemeanors and felonies were down by eight. He and the mayor cited the curfew as being a reason for this. Vidrine said there have been complaints about the booming of music from vehicles and asked the chief to look into that. Lartigue said the officers will issue citations.
Riggs later asked city engineer Ronnie Landreneau about gas meters. He said there were about 20 readers that were bad. Landreneau said the city did a small sample of the gas meters and found nine out of 20 were not functioning at all. Landreneau said, “As a result of that, in the interest of the city, we may want to look at changing out a larger amount, whatever the city can afford.” He recommended 100 meters and to send the removed ones to the Eunice metering company to have them checked. Riggs agreed to do a larger scale sample.
In other business, Vidrine announced the city received $23,834 for the community water enrichment fund which will be used to clean and refurbish city tanks. She said there have been problems with items being thrown down the drain and flushed which are working the pumps hard. They are looking to rent some equipment to help alleviate that issue.