OPELOUSAS — Mayor Reggie Tatum says he and his staff were swamped during his first year in office cleaning up after the last administration — and facing the repayment of $390,000 to the Department of Homeland Security for Hurricane Gustav cleanup and the loss of a $195,000 parks grant.
“Much of my time was spent putting out fires that were already going when I first got here,” Tatum told the Board of Aldermen on Tuesday.
Tatum said he, City Clerk Leisa Anderson and other city workers spent much of their time last year searching for documents that municipal workers assumed had been left by previous administrations, detailing payments made to contractors who had done work for the city.
“For instance, we were going back to monetary reports over the last eight years and responding to requests for information, like how much money had been paid to workers.
“Were these workers hired by contractors paid more than they were supposed to receive or less than they were supposed to? It took a lot of time to find this information,” Tatum said.
In an interview, Tatum said there was little transition information given to him by employees who worked for eight years under former Mayor Donald Cravins Sr.
Tatum, a former alderman and mayor pro tempore, defeated Cravins in a 2014 runoff election.
One of the biggest blows to the city, Tatum said, was the loss of a $195,000 state grant awarded to the city in 2006 for use in developing a municipal park master plan .
The funding, Tatum said, was lost because it wasn’t used in a timely manner.
“The previous (Cravins) administration had to send the money back because it wasn’t being used. We were told by them that the city had gotten an extension for the money.
“When we checked into it further, the money wasn’t there. It had been given back. We were under the impression that we still had it because the grant money was there, showing on the books,” Tatum said.
Tatum said the city learned last year it will also have to repay Homeland Security about $390,000 for 2008 cleanup efforts following Hurricane Gustav.
“The problem is the city can’t prove how the Gustav money was used, so we are going to have to pay it back,” Tatum said.
He said the money received from the federal government was moved into the general fund or other accounts.
Tatum told the board he will propose at the Feb. 16 meeting that the city repay Homeland Security $25,000 per year until the debt is repaid.
There was some good news in 2015, he said, noting the city showed some economic promise.
Anderson said city sales tax revenues rose for most of 2015, although she did not indicate an amount.
Looking forward in 2016, Tatum said the St. Landry Parish Solid Waste Commission has indicated it will give the city $300,000 to pay for equipment that will facilitate road repairs.
The city is also forming a Downtown Development Committee that Tatum said will work with Louis Viviano, an Opelousas lawyer, who owns most of the property in the city’s downtown area.
Tatum said the city also plans to partner will other municipalities in St. Landry to possibly share road equipment and other services.