When Mayor Mark Piazza presented his annual “State of the City” address to members of the Rotary Club of Abbeville on Wednesday, he would have preferred not to have to talk about the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, when talking about the current state of anything at this point in 2020, there is not much getting around mentioning COVID-19. “You have to hear about COVID-19 every day and you are bombarded with it over and
over,” Piazza said. “Usually I can come here with a lot of good news.
“Well, the news is not that great right now, but we will talk about it anyway.” Piazza said one of the things that has worked extremely well
during the pandemic is something that goes beyond the city to the regional level.
“There is a regional group that is on a conference call twice a week,” Piazza said. “It is every Monday and every Thursday. There are around 20 mayors
in Acadiana, several of the parish presidents, health officials, the Governor’s office, a representative from Sen. Bill Cassidy’s office, Sen.
John Kennedy’s office and Congressman Clay Higgin’s office. We are all on this conference call twice a week, talking about this crisis.
“We are very, very up-todate and involved with people who are knowledgeable about what is going on.” Closer to home, Piazza
said measures have been taken to protect employees who are vital to keeping the city running.
“We have had some big challenges in staffing,” Piazza said. “We have been really strict on social distancing. We used to have four people in a vehicle for some of the crews. We don’t allow that anymore. We went out and got some new vehicles, so now at most we will have two people in a vehicle.
“That is across the board in every department.” Piazza said adjustments
have also been made for shifts at the police and fire departments.
“You can’t send the whole fire department home if one of these guys gets sick,” Piazza said. “It has been a challenge to shift things around.”
The same goes for utility crews. “We’re talking about guys,” Piazza said, “who are fixing water leaks, putting your lights back on, running the sewer plant and running your water plant.” “It’s a real, real challenge to juggle these employees around.”
City hall is once again closed, with business being conducted by utilizing the
drive-through. “All of our permits are done by appointment only,” Piazza said.
If COVID-19 has had an effect on sales tax revenue, it has been positive. “Sales tax is up,” Piazza said, “believe it or not. In the past three months, sales tax is up 6%. For the year, it’s up 2%. Why? My personal feeling is that people are focused on buying local. People are not going that far away. They are staying home and shopping local.
“That is a wonderful thing.” Piazza said a focus from the start has been to make sure local businesses had knowledge of the resources that are available.
“Since day one,” Piazza said, “since the first phase was initiated and businesses were forced to close, we have been reaching out to businesses. We are really fortunate that we have some local banks that have been able to handle those payroll protection loans. We have worked closely with the Vermilion Chamber of Commerce and Anne Falgout with Vermilion Economic Development Alliance.
“We are working to see what we can do to help businesses to meet these challenges.” Things are not all related to COVID-19. Piazza discussed some of the issues with crime in the city. He said the city has worked and will continue working to make sure the police department has the resources it needs.
There are some positives, too. “We have a brand new terminal at the airport,” Piazza said of the new facility at the Chris Crusta Memorial Airport. “We fixed up the old hanger. We already have an oil company that relocated from Intracoastal.”
“Our airport in booming right now, even though the oil and gas industry is
down.” Another project in the works is the splash pad at A.A. Comeaux Park. The Rotary Club made improvements at the pavilion to coincide with the splash pad. Development of the splash pad has been slowed by the
pandemic, but Piazza said he expects it to be completed sometime in the future.
“Thank you Rotary Club for what you do for the community,” Piazza said.
“Thank you for your participation with the splash pad. The kids are going to love it. One of these days, this crisis is going to be over and we can get the kids out to that splash pad.”
By Shaun Hearen. Originally published in the Abbeville Meridional, 7/26/20