Honorable City Council Folks,

As we learned earlier this year, our police officers are the lowest paid in St. Tammany Parish (by quite a bit). As such, our Police Department has been short-staffed for at least the past ten years. During those 10 years, over 36 officers have left our City to work for other law enforcement agencies. That’s one every 4 months. We pay for new recruits to attend the Police Academy, then the expense of Field Training … only to have them leave for greener pastures. 75% of our officers have been with us for less than five years. Four have left us in just the past six months.

Per the Organization Chart below, we are supposed to have 20 patrol officers and 3 traffic enforcement officers. Currently, we have 13 patrol officers and 0 traffic enforcement.
A couple of months ago a man was shot in the back of the head on Florida Street. After investigation, CovPD now has the suspect in custody. A few weeks ago one of our local restaurants was burglarized – liquor and family memorabilia was stolen. After investigation, Cov PD arrested the suspect (from and in Gretna, LA). The memorabilia has been recovered. 
A couple of weeks ago one of our officers was patrolling the recreation baseball fields. A car drove up, the window was lowered, an AK-47 was held out of the window and several rounds were fired. After a car chase, the suspect ran into the woods. Smartly, the officer did not follow. Within a week, the suspect was arrested and is now in custody. Going into an apartment of a person known to be armed with a gun takes guts. The suspect had recently been released due to Covid19 from Orleans Parish on a murder bond.

Often there is no one patrolling our streets for speeding and stop signs. There is a reason: Due to short-staffing, the officers are literally not available.

By the way, Magic is eligible for retirement this year.
As I also mentioned earlier this year, our #1 primary response fire engine is a 1993 model. It should have been decommissioned in 2008. Last week, the motor locked up en route to a call. Replacing a motor in a 1993 model is not a good business decision. A new fire engine is now about $425,000.
Our wastewater treatment plant is in need of refurbishing. Each day we send about 1 million gallons of sewer and wastewater to the plant. Each day we treat that 1 million gallons, then discharge it into the Tchefuncte River. One Million Gallons each day … into the Tchefuncte River … what a tremendous responsibility we, as a community have. We currently have $1,000,000 in immediate and deferred needs at the plant. 
In August of last year as I worked through the budget for 2020, I came across a term, “Utility Fund Transfer.” This phrase meant nothing to me, so I inquired.  The answer: “Oh, Mayor, what we charge residents for sewer and water each month does not cover the cost of providing sewer and water.” What? Our monthly charges are roughly 50% of those in surrounding communities / utility companies. The City transfers money from the general fund (millage and sales tax) to cover the deficit.
In 2020, that subsidy amount is $2,200,000. 

Reducing the “fund transfer” by one-half ($1.1 million) would increase one’s monthly utility bill on average $19 per month.

Such an increase would fund a police pay increase, a new fire engine and the treatment plant re-build. It would also provide seed money for engineering traffic improvements at Tyler and 21 st and/or  Collins Boulevard. Prior to the State replacing the Collins Blvd. bridge, the City must relocate our utility lines at an estimated cost of $1,000,000. We also have substantial drainage work which should be tackled. And eventually, our iconic water tower will either need to be removed or repainted. The latter requires removing lead paint first.
A couple of months ago I suggested a flat increase of $20/month. Councilman Joey Roberts astutely pointed out that a flat increase of the base rate was a big hit for minimum users and nary a blip for high users. He saw this to be unfair. He was correct.

Tasked by the Council, I and my staff worked through a number of usage scenarios. An increase based solely on usage would have an enormous impact on our local institutions (Hospital, Parish Jail, Schools). Ironically, most of these utility bills are paid by us, the taxpayers. Multiple scenarios were run using a combination of base fee increases and usage. We now have something that works – and is most fair.
As such, I request the Council adopt an ordinance increasing our utility rates for the first 300,000 gallons of usage: $5 base water increase, $7 base sewer increase (base rate includes the first 3,000 gallons of water and sewer usage), with an increase of $.50 for water and $.75 for sewer for every 1,000 gallons thereafter. Utility rates for usage over 300,000 gallons will remain at the current rate.
Examples of bills:   
These amounts would be approximately 25% less than those charges in the surrounding areas ... and still would not cover the cost to provide sewer and water.

As Councilman Mark Verret suggested, at this same meeting I ask the Council to adopt a budget amendment increasing police pay and equipment operators by $4,000/year, effective one month after utility rate increases go into effect.

Since our 1993 fire engine is now kaput, I also ask that the Council amend the budget line-item for a new fire truck. Currently a purchase is budgeted contingent on the Department receiving a grant. I ask that the Council remove the contingency and increase the budget to $415,000.

Side note: Once ordered, it will take one year to receive a new truck. Our fire rate-review is scheduled for next year – so time is of the essence.
With Appreciation,

Mark R. Johnson
City of Covington