Coffee talk offers upbeat chat

Published 7:00 am Saturday, December 19, 2015

Jesse Wright | Picayune Item cheerful update: Mayor Ed Pinero an upbeat update Friday.

Jesse Wright | Picayune Item
cheerful update: Mayor Ed Pinero an upbeat update Friday.

Picayune Mayor Ed Pinero painted an optimistic picture Friday morning at the Coffee with the Mayor event.

The informal chat was held at the Holiday Inn where Pinero’s talk covered local business, park amenities and a plan for city employee raises next year. 

Pinero opened the talk by acknowledging sales tax revenue is down from last year, and added that last year’s revenue was abnormally high. 

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“Last year could be an outlier,” he said, and he pointed out that the city is still bringing in enough to make budget. 

He said he believes the city’s revenue will continue to grow, and he pointed to a healthy industrial park as evidence of a solid industrial base. 

“They ask us for a little help, and we don’t talk about it, but you give them a little support, you clean up for them and sell them a little bit of property and next thing you know, they’re expanding and hiring our citizens,” he said. 

Pinero said that as industry has grown, so have amenities.

“People used to complain that there wasn’t enough to do around here,” he said. “That is certainly, certainly not the case anymore. This is you doing this. This is the city the county and the state doing this. The churches have events going on, everyone’s participating in Christmas. You don’t see our county running from it. It’s all inclusive.”

Among the amenities Pinero mentioned, the additions to Friendship Park. This month, the park opened the first wheelchair-accessible swing at the park and the city broke ground on a splash pad. 

“This is probably the most touching thing you can do as an elected official, to help someone who needs help,” Pinero said of the swing.

The mayor singled out for praise the police officer who thought up the idea, Det. Christa Groom.

“This swing meant so much. I wanted you to be here today so I could thank you in public,” he told her. This was met with a round of applause. 

Pinero said he understand the park will be a hive of activity this spring and summer, as various regional softball and baseball tournaments are scheduled to be played there. 

“Our park will be the host of probably more baseball and softball tournaments this summer than any surrounding counties,” he said.

The mayor said these tournaments are a boon for the economy, as they fill hotel rooms and restaurants, though he pointed out local businesses seem to be doing well with local support. 

“It’s nice that there’s traffic on Highway 11,” he said and added, in jest, “I am sorry that there’s traffic on Highway 11. … But if you see the traffic on Highway 11, it’s because someone is leaving a business a car dealership or some place and going home.”

Looking toward the future, Pinero said he’s looking forward to the Mardi Gras ball and parade in January. On a more serious note, Pinero said he will fight for a raise for city employees next year. 

“In one of our January meetings I am going to ask the council to consider additional raises for our employees next year,” he said. “I want to find a mechanism to make these jobs more competitive. I don’t know what we’re going to do but I know we need to increase the starting wages of the police and the fire because it’s getting to the point where they’re not competitive. … Even if we had to give up the salaries for the mayor and the council, I think that’s something we should consider. We have to look at what we can without raising taxes on our citizens to make ourselves more competitive. … We’re behind, and we were behind when I came into office.

“This is something I am sure the council will support. I just need to work with city manager Jim Luke and (city clerk) Amber Hinton to find a way to do it. But we’re going to do it.”

Pinero did not mention the city’s impending water line rehabilitation project, but after the meeting, Luke said he will present some ideas for financing a large repair project, possibly as soon as the second city meeting in January.  For months, Luke has been studying ways to repair decades-old water pipe that is leaking and broken in the most cost-effective way possible. 

One way may be through a rate hike, but so far no concrete details have come before the city council.