YOUNGSVILLE — The way Youngsville plans its business, polices its residents and engineers its projects in one of Louisiana’s fastest-growing cities will evolve next year, changes that will be implemented by a new mayor, a five-seat City Council with four new members and a new police chief who wants to spend over $1 million to increase patrols.
Mayor-elect Ken Ritter, who is to be sworn in Saturday with the council and Police Chief Ricky Boudreaux, said he’s been lining up the pieces for a new administration since he walked into the job in August, when he was the only candidate who qualified to run. Ritter left his Youngsville Division A council seat to take the mayor’s job.
He said Youngsville’s next era will be defined by a leadership mix that blends the enthusiasm of political newbies and the wisdom of experienced hands.
The experience will be needed: Ritter left his City Council Division A seat for the mayor’s seat due to the retirement of three-term Mayor Wilson Viator; three of the remaining four council members are first-timers; and the city’s longtime police chief was defeated in the November primary election.
“We have 93 years of elected service that is retiring,” Ritter said in December.
So, in early December, Ritter started blending experience into the mix by announcing he’d persuaded state Rep. Simone Champagne to quit the Legislature and join his administration. Champagne will serve as chief administrative officer, a position she held for Iberia Parish before becoming a state representative. It also is a position new to Youngsville city government, which has never had a chief administrator.
Ritter also has named Pamela Gonzales-Granger to be Youngsville’s city engineer. Gonzales-Granger, who holds a master’s degree in civil engineering, will continue to be employed by CH2M Hill, a worldwide engineering firm.
“It’s an added plus that she’s from Youngsville,” Ritter said.
Gonzales-Granger will be a contract engineer to the city, replacing Fenstermaker engineer Dax Douet.
Ritter said the new engineer would not be in the same conflicted position that Douet was. For years, Douet was a contract engineer who oversaw road projects designed by Fenstermaker. The setup created a problem when there were road design flaws, such as the ongoing sinkage problems with Chemin Metairie Parkway.
Ritter said the problems on the parkway shined a light on the role of the city engineer: Is he or she an advocate for Youngsville, or should the engineer side with his employer and defend the design?
Nevertheless, Ritter said, “I’m proud of the work Fenstermaker has done. I think it really helped us get to the point we’re at.”
Ritter said Gonzales-Granger’s “appointment is just a sign of my commitment to provide a higher level of oversight to our projects and planning.” Ritter also said Gonzales-Granger’s company, CH2M Hill, would not be drawing up designs on major projects.
On Jan. 1, Youngsville’s legislative branch was almost entirely new.
Voters in the fall elections re-elected City Council Division E’s Dianne McClelland and decided not to return incumbent Tim Barbier to the Division D seat, which will be taken by newcomer Kenneth Stansbury.
In elections for the other three seats, voters faced ballots with new candidates, choosing: Jamison Abshire in Division A, Lauren Michel in Division B and Matt Romero in Division C.
“The amount of elected experience is completely different,” Ritter said.
McClelland, the experienced Division E councilwoman, said last week the city is trying to grow smartly. Gone are the days of hodgepodge housing developments with little planning and few rules that require things like green space and conservation measures, she said.
“We’re really trying to grow carefully,” McClelland said, remembering a period about four years ago when the city became “overwhelmed … and everything exploded.”
McClelland said Youngsville residents — and others who live in the Lafayette area — also can look forward to a recreation center being built at the Sports Complex, scheduled for completion in July or August. And there is commercial development planned for sections of Chemin Metairie near the complex and Sugar Mill Pond, and farther toward U.S. 90.
There also are challenges ahead, such as where to publicly educate schoolchildren in a city that’s attracted high-income families.
According to the latest estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau, Youngsville’s population was 9,944 in 2013, a 22 percent increase over the 2010 population of 8,141. About a third of residents were 18 or younger, a growing student population that has strained classroom capacity.
Although privately run charter schools in and near Youngsville are operating or are being constructed, the city wants the Lafayette Parish School Board to step up and build in the parish’s southern section, McClelland said.
On the security front, Boudreaux, the new police chief, wants to beef up patrols by tapping into about $1.3 million that is sitting in the city’s bank account. He said that money is dedicated to the Youngsville Police Department.
Boudreaux, who defeated incumbent Police Chief Earl Menard to take over leadership of the Police Department, said Youngsville’s patrol roster is at 14 officers.
He said he plans in January to ask the council to fund six more officers and that he plans to have 28 fully trained officers on the payroll by the end of 2015.
He said there is little violent crime in Youngsville, where vehicle burglary is the biggest crime complaint.
Boudreaux, who was a sheriff’s deputy in Lafayette and Iberia parishes for a combined 21 years, said the rule of thumb for police department staffing nationally is 2½ officers per 1,000 residents.
“I think Youngsville’s going to continue to grow, and the Police Department’s going to grow with it,” Boudreaux said.