JENNINGS — The Jennings City Council postponed a vote Tuesday on a plan to extend the city limits just north of Interstate 10.
Councilman Johnny Armentor asked that the matter be moved to the council’s June 11 meeting to allow for further discussion and to brief Councilman Anthony LeBlanc, who was out of state for the meeting.
Mayor Henry Guinn and Police Chief Danny Semmes were also absent from the meeting after being stuck in traffic following President Donald Trump’s visit to Hackberry. City attorney Kevin Millican also did not attend the meeting due to a prior commitment.
Under the proposal, the mayor wants to annex 149 acres of property along the north Frontage Road extending from just west of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Park to just east of the Evangeline exit.
Since the annexation involves I-10 property and not landowners, no public petition or election is required to approve the annexation.
“One of my goals when I came in to office was to give the city an opportunity to grow and businesses opportunities to be successful,” Guinn said. “Businesses want to locate along I-10 which has an exposure of 40,000-plus cars a day and we need to take full advantage of those vehicles passing on the interstate.”
If approved by the council, any retail outlet, fast food chain or other business that wants to locate on the north side can be incorporated into the city limits, he said. Such a measure would increase sales tax and utility revenues, which could be used to fund salaries and infrastructure improvements.
“We need the interstate to grow,” Guinn said.
Guinn stressed the annexation is simply acquiring the land at this time. If a business wants to locate along the corridor, infrastructure would have to be installed.
Water service through District 4 is in place, but highspeed internet, additional lift stations and other services would need to be installed.
“It’s just the first step to allow businesses to come in,” Guinn said. “The city gets calls daily from investors trying to find locations.”
After the meeting, Armentor said he supports annexation because opening the north side city limits would attract more businesses and generate more money for police officers and firefighters. He said the police department has been losing officers due to low pay. The starting salary for a police officer is $11.25.
Police Chief Danny Semmes said the police department has 29 officers. It should have 35. He said many of the officers are leaving for better paying jobs elsewhere.
Council President Stevie VanHook said after the meeting the council needs more time to seek additional information to be better informed about the annexation. The council also wants its legal department to review the proposed annexation ordinance and a letter of no objection received this week from the Department of Transportation and Development before a final decision is made, he said.
“The council had requested for our legal department to be here because it is a legal process, that was not able to happen,” VanHook said. “The unanimous consent of the council was to go ahead and move this to next month because there were council members who were seeking additional knowledge regarding something of this nature because of its relative importance and the number of departments and agencies it will affect.”
He said the council has some questions concerning who will patrol the area and who will upkeep and maintain the annexed area. Also at issue is what role the Jeff Davis Parish Police Jury may have.
VanHook said he has a lot of questions and anticipates other questions because the proposal would affect a lot of people including police officers with the Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE) program.
VanHook contends the LACE program has nothing to do with the annexation issue, however, District Attorney Michael Cassidy is concerned the LACE program may be eliminated with the annexation.
Under the program the DA’s office pays city police officers $60 per hour to work the 6-hour traffic detail. Out of the $60, the city pays an average of $35 to the DA’s office.
In addition, the DA’s office pays 50 cents per mile for a 80 miles per a 6-hour shift worked by the officers.
About a dozen officers currently work the LACE program during off-duty hours.
An average of $250,000-$275,000 per year is paid to the city of which 60 percent goes towards compensation and mileage and 40 percent to the general fund.
The DA’s office, Police Jury, Indigent Defenders’ Board, crime lab, Drug Abuse Resistance Education, coroner and others also receive a portion of court costs generated by the LACE programs.
The DA’s office received $20 per ticket paid. The DA’s office and Sheriff’s Office also receive 12 percent of the fines paid with the criminal court fund receiving 75 percent. The DA’s and judge’s offices use that revenue to pay for staff.
“If you cut it, it would take a big chunk out of our budget for all those including the judge, DA and clerk of court,” Cassidy said. “Several agencies would lose money on a parishwide basis.”
Cassidy estimates that 500 tickets are written per month with the average collection rate for LACE tickets at 76 percent. Twenty to 24 percent of the tickets are never resolved because violators live out-ofstate or are immigrants, he said.
The city would get $50 per ticket if the LACE contract is cancelled and the tickets would go to city court.
The city would have to write 600 tickets per month to maintain revenues lost by LACE, he said. In addition, the city would have to have someone inputting the 600 tickets, handling the documents, receiving payments and assisting violators. About 50 percent of the tickets received request assistance.
Cassidy is also concerned Jennings Police would not be able to keep or recruit new officers without the LACE program to enhance their salaries.
“I believe the city would not generate much more revenue than it is currently being paid and it would take on much more work and responsibility,” he said. “It also would only provide about 1.3 miles of jurisdiction to work the program versus the current 5 miles of jurisdiction currently operated under the Ward II Marshal’s jurisdiction.”
He fears if the city took over the LACE program, it would not make as much money as anticipated and would have a higher volume of work and responsibility than anticipated which may lead city officials to terminate the entire program affecting public safety.
“My goal is to maintain traffic enforcement in order to improve the safety of our highways, get impaired drivers off the road, interdict drug couriers, seize illegal narcotics and drug proceeds, apprehend wanted fugitives, recover stolen property and discover missing persons.”
If the city does away with the LACE program, Cassidy said he will work with State Police and the Sheriff’s Office to reinstate their LACE program to continue to address safety concerns and maintain a steady revenue source for the District Attorney’s Office and the criminal justice system.
Cassidy said it appears all parties involved need and want more information on both the annexation and LACE program before making a decision on what is the best interest of all.