Among the problems reported to the City of Winnfield in the last several months, people complained that the major sewer repairs done on Maple Street resulted in the street being in a state of disrepair (as soon as the road block from the sewer work was cleared), the State Department of Environmental Quality complained that there were too many ashes in the City, and someone reported a major problem at the airport with aliens dumping foreign objects on houses in Calvin, according to a “state of the City report” by Mayor George Moss to the Winnfield Rotary Club at its weekly meeting on Wednesday, January 19. Mayor Moss was the guest speaker invited by Rotarian of the day, Keith Gates, our new City Judge.
On a more serious note, Mayor Moss said that, early in his term, several downtown improvement projects were underway which were derailed, in the early part of 2020, by the advent of COVID. Then, of course, further progress was also halted by Hurricane Laura at the end of August 2020 along with the pandemic, when communications with Baton Rouge were completely cut off, $2.9 million in damages was done to the City’s electric lines and poles, and massive tree removal and trimming was necessary. One of the companies which provided tree trimming and removal has submitted an excessive bill which is being contested by the City.
City audits were in progress early in the term when one of the primary auditors passed away, suddenly and without warning, in the middle of the process. This unfortunate circumstance led to significant delays in completion of the audits, but the entire process is now complete and the City is already moving forward.
Since Mayor Moss took office, the rate structure for utility bills has been overhauled, and the Louisiana Energy and Power Authority [LEPA] has placed the City in what the Mayor calls a “tunnel,” which will eliminate large spikes in billing when the City has to go outside the regular electrical grid to obtain power for the City.
As natural disasters and the pandemic have been dealt with and the City has returned to “new normal” operations, more progress has been made with downtown projects which had begun earlier. The animal shelter has been successful since its reopening and, with its partnership with Heart of Louisiana Humane Society, thousands of dogs and cats have been rescued from the streets, fixed and transported to other states where there is a demand for pets that cannot be met.
The new underground water storage tank was completed, and is now on line. Unfortunately, shortly after that successful project, a major water line had a break requiring major work, but that has now been completed.
Renovation of the Allen Building across Main Street from the Winn Parish Courthouse with grant money from the State was recently completed. The building had developed mold due to a malfunctioning door that regularly blew open in storms and caused water damage to the front wall of the building. A door with egress to nowhere had to be removed and closed, and other areas of the building were repaired and the entire building refurbished.
Street re-paving projects are back on track and grinding of streets needing repair is underway. Once that is complete, repaving will be done.
The mayor is still working closely with FEMA on repairs of the damage to City infrastructure caused by Hurricane Laura. The City was required to pay $1.7 million for repairs to the electrical system, and then seek reimbursement of those funds from FEMA. The repairs have been made and the bill has been paid. The reimbursement process is underway.
As to future plans in the works, Mayor Moss reports that the traffic lights on Main Street are flashing because the control boxes have all been damaged. The City will have them repaired in the near future, rather than purchasing new ones which cost $150,000 each.
The Winnfield Civic Center has been re-roofed, and a new floor will soon be installed. Plans are underway for installation of a Veterans’ Memorial in the Mini-Park at the junction of Highway 84 and Maple Street to be funded by a combination of grant money obtained by the Chamber of Commerce and fundraising by the City from private citizens.
Regular maintenance of City infrastructure and property has slowed significantly due to the loss of all inmate help. Adult Teen Challenge has been helping with some of this work in the past few months, for instance, rewiring lots of old Christmas decorations for use, which saved the City a good bit of money. The mayor is currently working on a contract with them to have some of the work that would have been done by inmates done by Adult Teen Challenge residents.
Bids have been called for repair and renovation of buildings at the Winnfield Recreation Center, and re-leveling of the baseball fields is in the works.
Other plans for the future include finishing downtown historic district projects and completion of the “Rails to Trail” project. Abandoned railroad tracks are being obtained to become part of a hiking/biking trail which will run from west of the City all the way to the Highway 84 overpass by MacDonald’s and P. K. Smith Chevrolet. This project includes installation of a little park there by the overpass where runners, hikers, bikers using the trail may take a break, have a rest and a snack. The part of the trail from Mosley Drive to behind P. K. Smith’s Chevrolet is in the process of being paved now. This stretch of trail will join with a trail going all the way from behind P.K.’s north to Jamestown in Bienville Parish.
Mayor Moss is also working with the Governor’s office on tourist attraction ideas about which he could not give specific information because any announcement must come from the Governor’s office. Plans are also underway for annexation of Collins Subdivision as well as areas north of the City along Highway 167. Funds have been awarded under the American Rescue Plan Act, to be put toward the water and sewage projects necessary for the annexation.
After all audience questions were answered, the meeting was adjourned with the Rotary motto, “Service above self!”