Tax payments and state money top parish news

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 31, 2001

VIDALIA, La. – Millions of dollars in tax payments, loans and state capital outlay money came to Concordia Parish and its towns in 2001.

Landmark judgments, sentences and indictments were handed down. Crops failed, a prison opened and a Natchez man hit the jackpot – with a Lotto ticket from a Vidalia store.

That was the year in Concordia Parish headlines. The top 10 parish stories for 2001 were:

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1) Vidalia got approval for $6.8 million in funding from the State Bond Commission.

In August, the commission approved $3 million in capital outlay money for Phase 3A of the Vidalia Landing riverfront development.

That year an amphitheater was built, infrastructure work was continued, and site work was done for a Comfort Suites hotel and a fountain plaza at the site. A restaurant was also announced for the riverfront.

And in July, the Vidalia Board of Aldermen voted to adopt an ordinance to borrow $3.8 million to help pay for the cost of electricity the town must buy from Louisiana Hydroelectric. The commission had voted in June to give the town permission to borrow the money.

2) Concordia Parish got a tax windfall in 2001, with Louisiana Hydroelectric added to the tax rolls for the first time in the electric plant’s 10-year history.

That partnership paid almost $2.9 million in tax payments in December to the parish to be used by agencies ranging from the Concordia Parish School District to the Sheriff’s Office and the Police Jury.

&uot;Louisiana Hydroelectric has been a great corporate citizen,&uot; said Sheriff and Tax Collector Randy Maxwell. &uot;Their addition to the local tax rolls is a boost to our local economy. In addition, bankrupt Fruit of the Loom, parent company of distribution center Vidalia Apparel, paid more than $2.4 million in January and December.

3) Almost 200 people gathered in mid-March at the Concordia Parish Correctional Facility for the grand opening of a 46,000-square-foot expansion of the prison. The expansion, which was built by BAS Construction of Rayville, is located next to the current facility on Louisiana 15 near Ferriday.

The 500-bed expansion includes eight prisoner dorms with four control rooms overlooking them, a multi-purpose room, expanded kitchen and storage facilities, and four recreational yards.

The facility is expected to have a direct economic impact of $6 million and an indirect impact of $42 million, Maxwell said.

4) First one, then another of Ferriday’s historic downtown buildings were destroyed by fires in the last half of 2001.

First, the Serio Building, then home of camouflage clothing maker Mardy’s Contracting was gutted by a fire started by an electrical short at the rear of the building. Then the Pasternack Building, also on First Street, was destroyed by a fire whose cause is yet to be determined.

&uot;Considering how depressed our area is, I’d say this (fire) is a major upset,&uot; Mayor Glen McGlothin said after the Pasternack fire. The Pasternack family donated that building to the town in November 2000.

The Town of Ferriday is still working to get $680,000 in federal grants that were meant to aid in restoration of the building — but will now be used for construction, according to McGlothin.

5) In early November, Ferriday Housing Authority Executive Director Charles Bell pleaded not guilty on charges of stealing public funds.

Bell faces four counts of theft or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funding. If convicted, Bell could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count. The indictment against Bell, handed down Oct. 1 by a federal grand jury, charges Bell &uot;fraudulently obtained property valued at $165,220 or more (and owned or controlled by) the FHA, and converted it to his use.&uot;

The indictment stemmed from a June report released by Louisiana Legislative Auditor Dan alleging that Bell had misappropriated more than $218,169 in public funds between 1996 and 2000.

6) After three years of drought, heavy rains caused problems of all kinds in Concordia and surrounding parishes in 2001.

More than six inches of rain fell in Concordia Parish in early March, causing yards, streets and a few houses in low-lying areas to flood.

Shortly after, waters from a swollen Black River flooded parts of neighboring Catahoula Parish, damaging houses and displacing more than 30 families.

And in early September, farmers reported that eight straight days of rain left them in danger of losing money on their cotton crop — one the parish’s biggest agricultural moneymakers.

7) Fred Fuller of Natchez won the Louisiana Lotto’s Dec. 19 drawing — with a ticket he bought at Vidalia’s U-Pak convenience store.

Fuller’s ticket was valued at more than $1.43 million, but he opted for a lump-sum payment of $967,335.65 instead.

Actually, Fuller had asked the store’s clerk for a Powerball ticket and was given a Lotto ticket instead.

Also, he did not realize until the Saturday after the drawing that he had won — and couldn’t claim the prize until Dec. 26, after the Christmas holidays.

&uot;I plan to buy a few acres of land and build a house. I also want to buy a Ford Expedition and hit the road to see the country!&uot; was Fuller’s reaction to winning. He also plans to retire from International Paper’s Natchez mill after 26 years of service.

8) Funding to establish a YMCA in Concordia Parish has been denied — and approved — and denied again several times in 2001 by the board of Concordia Recreation District No. 1.

To establish a Y, a local committee must raise $150,000 — $50,000 a year for the first three years the facility will be in operation.

The Ferriday Town Council voted in September to allocate $75,000 of that money. But after twice approving $75,000 for the YMCA, the board of Recreation District No. 1 said in September that it would not fund the effort.

Rec Board Chairperson Delores Thomas recently told police jurors the board is waiting on an attorney general’s opinion on whether the allocation can be made. Meanwhile, the Florida Street Gym facility has been renovated for YMCA programs and branch director candidates are being interviewed.

9) In February, ex- Town Clerk Ida Tolliver was sentenced to two years with the Louisiana Department of Corrections on charges of theft and malfeasance for her part in stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Town of Ferriday.

Tolliver is appealing her sentence. Former water clerk Kathy Green was placed on five years supervised probation for theft and malfeasance.

Seventh Judicial District Judge Leo Boothe also sentenced Tolliver and former water clerk Kathy Green to pay $145,000 in restitution to the town.

Of that amount, however, the town’s insurance company paid $100,000 on bonds the town had on the two women.

10) In late July, Seventh Judicial District Court Judge Kathy Johnson class certified a lawsuit calling for Ferriday water users to be compensated for damages resulting from a 1999 boil water notice.

Ferriday resident and restaurant owner Gloria Martello filed the lawsuit Oct. 25, 1999 against Ferriday and engineers Owen and White. U.S. Filter, maker of Ferriday’s water plant, was later added as a defendant.

But if and when the court awards damages in the case, thousands of people who used Ferriday water from Aug. 20, 1999 through Dec. 22, 1999 and suffered damages as a result would be entitled to a portion of damages awarded.

That includes people who were residents of Ferriday, operated or worked at businesses in Ferriday, leased property in the town, were students at Ferriday schools or were patients in health care facilities in the town during that time.