Thibodaux growing slowly and steadily

Port progress keeps cargo moving
November 13, 2012
Lafourche anticipates completion of several projects in ’13
November 13, 2012
Port progress keeps cargo moving
November 13, 2012
Lafourche anticipates completion of several projects in ’13
November 13, 2012

The City of Thibodaux has been busy making preparations for future growth by completing projects that were hanging in the balance and moving forward with new plans.

“In my last 22 months in office, we have taken projects that were in limbo when I came to office and moved them forward,” said Mayor Tommy Eschete. “We determined which ones were top priority and worked to overcome the financal restrictions.”

Projects on the books before Eschete came into office included natural gas meter system updates in Schriever, the North Canal Boulevard widening project, the Tiger Drive Bridge, the construction of a pedestrian bridge on Canal Boulevard and renovations to sewer force mains and pump stations on the city’s west and south sides.

“Revenue was used to fund the natural gas meter system updates in Schriever, and the cost was not too extreme, about $200,000,” Eschete said. “We had been cited by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development for the station conditions. The North Canal Boulevard widening project had funds sitting in capital outlay for 10 years, and we had about $740,000 in cash on hand from the outlay. We got local legislators involved to help get the $5.3 million project moving forward and, in 22 months, the project was completely funded. Tiger Drive Bridge had $250,000 in capital outlay, and we are winding down on securing the funds for the $3 million project. The pedestrian bridge is fully funded, but we need to work out a few last issues with DOTD.”

Eschete said he expects the bids for the pedestrian bridge and the widening project to be out between now and sometime next year.

“We took stale projects and turned them in to real projects in just few years,” Eschete said. “We have taken these projects from concept to reality.”

Eschete himself is leading the east side water line distribution center, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center renovations, funded with Community Development Block Grants, and he recently got the city council’s approval to raise sewer rates for the construction of the new north side treatment plant.

“The $5.3 million east side water line distribution center is close to completion, and the MLK Center work will begin in 2013 or 2014,” Eschete said. “We knew we were going to have to borrow the money for the new north side treatment plant and increase sewer fees.”

The city is still waiting for the Department of Environmental Quality to approve funding of the project and, with the permitting process, it could be another two to two-and-a-half years before the city breaks ground for the project.

“We have some real challenges ahead with fiscal issues,” he said. “The city budget hinges on sales taxes for government services. Municipalities across the country are feeling the sting of personnel costs and technology costs, something they can’t do without. The Thibodaux sales rate has been in place for 32 years. The council may need to look at that in the next few years. I think the citizens will get behind some changes to help maintain the quality of life in the city.”

Eschete is meeting the challenges head on with next year’s streamlined city budget

“For the first time in 10 years, there will be no raises,” Eschete said.

While the city’s budget has shrunk, the city’s population is slowly growing.

“Historically, Thibodaux has been six square miles, and population growth is at a minimum,” he said. “The population has been strong over the last 20 years, and we are seeing some new residential construction. We always see spikes in residential building after hurricanes, but they slow down. Services are also developing right outside the city limits, but these people are still coming into the city for retail, education and recreation needs. The tax on our infrastructure has grown.”

In addition to those who come into town from just outside the city limits, Eschete said the number of visitors to Nicholls State University and Thibodaux Regional Medical Center has been steadily increasing since 1990.

According to Kathy Benoit, president and CEO of the Thibodaux Chamber of Commerce, these two establishments are key to the commercial growth of the city.

“I think the presence of Nicholls State University and Thibodaux Regional Medical Center are the driving forces behind Thibodaux being an attractive business destination,” Benoit said. “Of the 1,000 businesses in the city, about 50 new businesses have opened here in the last year, and that is an average increase.”

Many of the city’s new businesses take advantage of the chamber’s website to look up information about certain properties, demographics, and other economic indicators.

“Since the Internet is such a convenient tool, we hardly have site selectors walking into the office, but our website receives a tremendous number of views on those pages,” Benoit added.

According to Benoit, new businesses like Colonel Nutrition, My’s Day Spa and Santa Fe Cattle Company are seeing a solid level of commerce, and Thibodaux’s commercial sector – both big and small businesses – is on track for a repeat in 2013.

“Historically the Bayou Region has managed to weather the economic storms in the past,” Benoit said. “Depending on the political landscape, it is predicted that 2013 should be another solid year for commerce in South Louisiana.”

Councilwoman Constance Johnson shares Benoit’s optimistic view.

“In regard to the city, I think Thibodaux has fresh outlook,” Johnson, who has been on the council since 2010, said. “The population in the city has increased due to people moving to town after the storms. People like Thibodaux and think it is a good city. Many of those who come here after a storm remain here. We will need to improve the city to handle these additional residents. The new council has worked effectively with Thibodaux to get things done. We have done a lot in the last two years with the new administration, but more could have been done. We have made some positive changes.”

Johnson counts upgrades to the city’s water lines, improved housing and the future north side sewer treatment plant among the positive changes.

“As representative of my district, I received many calls objecting to the sewer increase but, after I explained that it would increase in increments, most people were on board,” she said. “I voted in favor of the first two of the three scheduled increases. We may not need the third increase, and I wanted that known. I didn’t agree with the increases at first, but I think this is in the best interest of the city given the current economy. This is necessary, and I think the city is getting the best deal for the least amount of money.”

In the future, Johnson, who has lived in the city pretty much her whole life, would like to see an increase in the city’s recreational options and an overall increase in the city’s communication with its residents.

“We were not successful in getting the recreational tax passed,” Johnson said. “Many people did not understand what needed to be done to establish more recreational options. Children need weekly and weekend access to recreation. We need to look at this again and push it forward.”

Johnson cited the high number of children living in the city as one of the major reasons for the city to establish more recreational opportunities.

“There is much more we can do,” Johnson said. “We need to focus on our relationships with our citizens so that we can move with the changing times. We need to reach out to more of our citizens. We are a voice for people here in the city.”

Thibodaux’s residential population may be growing slowly, but number of businesses is steadily increasing. Of the city’s estimated 1,000 businesses, more than 50 have opened in the last year.