The only parish president Tangipahoa has ever had will retire this year after nearly 30 years in the parish government’s top post.
Parish President Gordon Burgess took office in October 1986, when the parish switched over from the police jury system by adopting its own Home Rule Charter. His eighth and final term will expire Jan. 11, 2016.
“Although I am sad to be entering my final year, I am proud to say that our team has made a monumental difference in the lives of our residents,” Burgess said in a statement announcing his retirement.
When Burgess first took office, he found his parish on the verge of financial ruin with a deficit of nearly $4 million.
“I met with everyone — governors, lawmakers, experts. They were all shocked to see just how bad things were,” he said. “The parish voted to declare bankruptcy.”
The dire financial straits, and the realization that there was no plan in place to stop the bleeding, led Burgess to adopt a pay-as-you-go approach that he maintained throughout his three decades in office.
“We made a conscious decision to live within our means,” Burgess said.
The parish also passed a 1-cent sales tax — with 75 percent dedicated to roads and bridges and 25 percent to parish operations — that helped pave the way back to solvency.
The parish retired its debt and made improvements to more than 1,000 miles of roadway.
Burgess, 80, a former oil man and cattle farmer, said he never planned to serve eight terms as parish president.
“I didn’t even enroll in the municipal retirement system,” he said. “I really thought I’d help get things started here and go back to the oilfield.”
Burgess said Friday he is not sure yet what he will do after he retires, but finding a job is not on the agenda.
“I’ve had a couple offers, but if I was looking for a job, I’d keep the one I’ve got — or try to, anyway,” he said.
Burgess said he is proud to have had a hand in shaping the parish’s future and grateful for those who have served alongside him.
“We had a good run, and I’m really proud of all we accomplished,” he said.
Former Parish Councilman Carlos Notariano announced his intention Friday to run for the presidency following Burgess’s retirement.
Notariano, 55, served as District 8 councilman for 12 years before challenging Burgess for the presidency in 2011. Burgess won the election by 686 votes out of nearly 28,000 cast.
The election will be Oct. 24.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen. Contact her by phone at (225) 336-6981.