Vidalia officials approved $3 million worth of projects to receive hydroelectric revenue, saving some for next year

Published 5:24 pm Wednesday, February 14, 2024

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VIDALIA, La. — After paying off the town’s debit and refunding more than $3 million to utility customers, Vidalia officials will spend an additional $3 million in surplus hydroelectric revenues on new playgrounds, a splash pad and a new afterschool tutoring program, among other projects.

The Mayor and Board of Aldermen this week detailed plans for spending an additional $3 million from the more than $31 million in surplus revenues generated from the Sidney A. Murray Jr. Hydroelectric Station over the years. Officials previously spent $12 million paying off debt and $3.1 million in rebates to customers, additionally setting aside $2.3 million in a reserve fund.

Now, after a pair of public hearings in which officials and residents shared input on how to spend the excess revenues, the board voted this week on another $3 million for projects. “The public has offered up some things they would like and the town council has offered up projects. … Everybody has some great ideas for our town,” said Mayor Buz Craft.

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Top on the list is spending $1.6 million to begin the expansion of Polk Park to the area adjacent to the municipal complex behind the tennis courts. Phase one would begin with the construction of playgrounds and a splash pad for the park. Later plans are to add a disc golf course, skate park, dog park, new pavilions, pickleball courts, exercise equipment and bicycle and walking trails.

Other projects approved Tuesday include approximately $300,000 for cutting trees that pose hazards to Vidalia utility lines; $150,000 to build turnaround areas for North Spruce, Magnolia and Walnut streets; and $150,000 for an afterschool tutoring program for Vidalia school children with the Concordia Parish School Board.

Of a $167,000 ask from the Vidalia Beautification Committee for projects throughout the town, $153,000 worth of projects were approved. These include updating the town’s welcome signs; sprucing up the old toll booth with flower beds; lighting the riverfront gazebo; purchasing decorative riverwalk banners to hang on poles along the riverfront; signage for Martin Luther King Avenue; and installing outdoor electrical outlets at the old Vidalia courthouse.

The board approved approximately $50,000 each to renovate the Concordia Council on Aging building and to purchase a safety net for the baseball fields of the recreation complex.

Alderman Tommy Probst voted against the purchase of safety nets, but the motion still passed by a vote of 3-1 in Alderman Robert Gardner’s absence. “I went to these (recreation) board meetings and have yet to see a recreation board member at our meetings. They’re requesting funds but are not showing up to the meetings,” Probst said. “It doesn’t make sense to me. They should put something into it if they want to get something out of it. I would like to see them put something into it out of their funds. We are in a cooperative endeavor with them and we’re giving them a lot already. The nets are definitely needed.”

Craft said the recreation board owns the complex, but Vidalia owns the grounds.

“It was a cooperative endeavor that the recreation board leases that whole property, but the Town of Vidalia does own it,” he said. “If someone were to get hurt, with it being on Vidalia property, we could be open to liability.”

Another $30,000 to $50,000 was allocated to build a sidewalk along South Oak Street.

The aldermen also agreed to allocate $40,000 for the down payment on a veterans’ memorial wall in the Riverfront R.V. Park, which is an estimated $360,000 project according to Jeff McClure, one of its sponsors. The memorial itself would be an 80 percent scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C. and would include the names of fallen soldiers from Iraq, Gulf Wars, Afghanistan, 9/11, World War I and World War II and Korean wars.

Not every item made the list for this year. For instance, improvements to the Vidalia High School football stadium, the soccer field, decorative street signs, and pavement for overflow parking near the Vidalia recreation complex will wait for a new fiscal cycle.

Town officials agreed on first paying off the municipal debt totaling over $12 million, which was done last year, Craft said.

“The town is actually debt-free,” he said. “All we owe right now is the money we’re spending to finish the (electrical) substation and we’ll probably be coming back in a year or two to have that paid off as well. There is no sense in having debt when you have money.