Youngsville mayor-elect takes a look at condition of city, schools _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Incoming Youngsville Mayor Ken Ritter, left, stands with outgoing Mayor Wilson Viator, Jr. outside of Youngsville City Hall Thursday.

Heading into his final months as Youngsville’s leader, three-term Mayor Wilson Viator said he believes the future of the small city with one of the highest growth rates in the country will be in good hands with Mayor-elect Ken Ritter.

Ritter, a 37-year-old manager of a Lafayette hotel, will officially take the reins Jan. 1, and he and Viator are spending a lot of time these days working on the transition.

“I think he’s a fine gentleman. I think the future of Youngsville is bright,” Viator said last week.

A native of Metairie, Ritter moved to Youngsville in 2006 not knowing a soul. By 2010, he knew enough people to walk into a citywide council seat with 70 percent of the vote. This year, nobody signed up to run against him in the mayor’s race, allowing Ritter to take over the retiring Viator’s office without a political fight. Ritter said he plans to remain working at Homewood Suites by Hilton in Lafayette, where he is manager. If the dual role proves too taxing, Ritter said, he’ll devote all his time to being mayor.

“It’s what I signed up for,” he said.

Though he has no direct control, Ritter said his top priority is getting new public schools built in Youngsville, a city of mostly young families with school-age children. The public school facilities those kids attend are bursting at the seams, he said, and the Lafayette Parish School Board is not addressing the problem adequately.

“My focus has been to continue putting pressure on the School Board. … We need to get the School Board to focus on what’s important and away from the distractions,” Ritter said.

The distractions include the majority of the board’s preoccupation with Superintendent Pat Cooper, who has been at odds with board members since he was hired about two years ago.

Ritter, who last week did not go into detail about the much maligned School Board, said he’ll continue to request more schools be built to handle Youngsville’s booming population.

To illustrate the school facilities need, Ritter said Youngsville’s population has grown almost 50 percent since 2010. That year, he said, census numbers pegged the population at 8,105. Now, an unofficial head count has the population at about 12,000, Ritter said.

Ritter said schools are the most pressing need now, and he’s prepared to take another route if necessary.

“An independent school district is not off the table,” Ritter said. “But my preference would be to go with more traditional means.”

Youngsville has other problems such as the traffic flow in and out of the city on two-lane La. 89, which jams up during peak hours. Viator and Ritter said the problem is multijurisdictional; La. 89 runs through the cities of Youngsville and Lafayette, and much of the backup occurs in Lafayette.

Viator said the city is doing what it can. In November, Youngsville will request money through Louisiana’s construction budget — capital outlay — to add an extra lane to La. 89 from the Fortune Road intersection to downtown Youngsville.

Viator and Ritter also said the design is complete on a two-lane roundabout at the La. 89 intersection with Fortune Road. Though Youngsville is known for its roundabout traffic circles, this one will be the first with two lanes.

Another project, one still in the planning phase, is to stretch Fortune Road from its intersection with La. 89 to West Fairfield Drive, about a mile to the east. Ritter said the project would be a joint endeavor with the city of Broussard.

Financially, Youngsville is sitting pretty, Ritter and Viator said. The city has enough cash on hand to go almost a year without any incoming revenue, a sign of fiscal health.

And tax revenues continue to climb; Viator said sales and property tax receipts have grown 1,000 percent since he took office 12 years ago. Ritter said he wants the trend to continue.

“We’re no Broussard, and I’m comfortable with that,” Ritter said, referring to the enviable tax collections that Broussard rakes in. Broussard straddles U.S. 90, raking in sales and property taxes from industrial businesses. Broussard’s coffers also are flush with sales taxes from the video poker establishments that sit in St. Martin Parish, which were annexed into Broussard a few years ago.

“We (in Youngsville), however, have a great story to tell” and are the envy of other municipalities, Ritter said.

Youngsville’s residents have high-paying jobs and are well-educated. They also have a brand-new, multimillion-dollar sports complex with a community center on the way.

“If we’re going to be a bedroom community to Lafayette,” Ritter said, “then let’s make sure we’re the best one we can be.”