In the final days of V.J. St. Pierre’s eight-year administration, the outgoing parish president pointed to his investment in people – his staff and the citizens of St. Charles Parish – as his proudest achievement.
“I wanted to surround myself with people I could trust,” St. Pierre said of setting out to enter office with the kind of people equally dedicated to getting projects done for the parish. “My biggest accomplishment is I hired a really qualified staff. I couldn’t even imagine accomplishing what I did without their input.”
St. Pierre’s plans translated into numerous projects that he considered a privilege doing for two terms.
“I can honestly say I don’t think I had a bad day here even though we went through three hurricanes, the BP oil spill and the Bonnet Carre’ Spillway opening two times,” St. Pierre said. “The biggest thing I’m proud of most is finally getting the permits to build the West Bank levee.”
St. Pierre also considers the public’s support of the 4-mill tax to complete the parish’s $300 million flood protection levee system as a vote of confidence in building trust with the people.
“I really didn’t like what was done in the previous administration that had lost trust,” he said. “We restored some trust back in government and that reflected in the passage of the millage for the levee.”
As part of that trust, St. Pierre said he hopes the $87 million in bonds created by this millage revenue will continue to go to matching funds for levee work.
Infrastructure upgrades remained a priority to the parish president through the years.
“I’ve lived here all my life and I wanted government buildings for the people,” he said. In all, Chief Administrative Officer Buddy Boe estimated St. Pierre’s completed projects during his tenure totaled more than $100 million.
An animal shelter, EOC building, a public works office on the East Bank, Edward A. Dufresne Community Center, West Bank Pavillion Park and splash park with ballparks were among the many works that St. Pierre listed among his achievements, which he also credited to a supportive Parish Council. He also hopes to see a proposed “destination park” featuring a veteran’s memorial, as well as a dog park and amphitheater for Luling, which the Parish Council will consider this month.
This also included renovation of the third floor of the St. Charles Parish Courthouse, where incoming Parish President Larry Cochran is choosing furniture for his office. And how the parish government afforded these many projects is also a favorite subject for St. Pierre.
“The other thing I’m really proud of is the amount of grants we’ve gotten,” he said of crediting Grants Officer Holly Fonseca’s efforts in bringing in state and federal money. “These projects were done on 80 percent federal money (grants).”
St. Pierre said many fellow government officials approached him about where the money was coming from for these additions, which also included a water plant on the East Bank and completed river crossing to connect the two water plants that ensured continuous water supply.
Substantial upgrades to the parish’s Recreation Department also served as an inspiration to him, particularly creating the Challenger Program so children with disabilities could play baseball. St. Pierre fought back tears as he recounted seeing what the program meant to these children.
St. Pierre said he also wanted to be remembered as heading an administration dedicated to modernizing the parish, as well as implementing efficiencies that freed tax dollars for new projects and growth.
Owning instead of renting emergency generators is saving the parish $700,000 a year, he said. They’re also being used to power lift stations during outages to avoid sewer backups in residences. Implementing a maintenance program for pump stations has saved millions of dollars by ensuring continued operations, St. Pierre added.
He also outlined such cost saving measures as creating a trust fund for employee health insurance that could save up to $20 million, using Cox Communications cut $250,000 a year in phone costs and refinancing sewer bonds saving up to $3 million as examples of his dedication to ensure the parish got the most from every tax dollar.
St. Pierre even joyfully boasted that in his eight years in office the parish had won the best tasting water contest for three years and even went to the nationals only to run second to Colorado.
“It’s bittersweet for me,” he said of leaving office and all the employees he’d come to know over the years. He also feels the parish charter should be changed to allow the parish president to serve three terms instead of two because he wants to get more done with the levee, as well as the memorial park, boat launch and helping update the building for the Planning Department. “I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed working with the people and we spent the people’s money wisely and had a super staff.”
Looking ahead, St. Pierre said he hopes the Council-elect will decide carefully who it assigns to dealing with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and National Flood Insurance Program, which will affect what residents pay for flood insurance.
“I had a down moment in my eight years. It was when we were at a town meeting at Hahnville High School and I saw 1,158 people walk to the table and drop their house keys on the table and say if they had to pay $18,000 to $35,000 a year for flood insurance to go ahead and take their house now,” he said of 2013 meetings with parish residents hit with skyrocketing flood insurance rates.
This was a pivotal moment for him that kept him dedicated to efforts that helped delay rate reassessment until 2017.“The only regret I have is the time demand on this job,” he said. “Sometimes I should have been doing family functions, but the demands of the flood insurance issues was the thing that kept me awake at night.”
Otherwise, St. Pierre said he’s leaving office with no regrets.
“I think we’re leaving the parish in a lot better shape than how we found it … finance wise, personnel wise, procedural wise and protection wise with the levees,” he said.St. Pierre said several companies have offered him consulting jobs, but he plans to take a six-month break to travel with his wife, spend time with his grandchildren and get involved in community activities. He’s growing a beard, although his wife has threatened to cut it off while he’s sleeping.
“I’d really like to thank the people of St. Charles Parish for letting me serve them,” he said. “And I hope they believe we’ve moved the parish in the right direction. I thank all the staff for their service and offered my help to the coming administration. The thing I’m proud of, is in the last eight years with indictments and scandals in surrounding parishes, you didn’t see that here.”