St. Tammany Leaders Discuss Hot Topics at BGR Breakfast
NEW ORLEANS – On March 23, the Bureau of Governmental Research kicked off its 2021 Breakfast Briefing Series with “The Vision for St. Tammany Parish,” a conversation among three parish leaders about balancing economic development and quality of life.
Speaking via Zoom were Susan Bonnett Bourgeois, president and CEO of the Northshore Community Foundation; Mike Cooper, St. Tammany Parish president; and Chris Masingill, St. Tammany Corporation CEO. The three addressed a wide range of issues important to St. Tammany’s future.
Each emphasized that achieving a healthy, productive balance between economic development and quality of life is possible and desirable. Bourgeois discussed the foundation’s “North of Your Expectations” initiative, which promotes St. Tammany as a great place to live and work. Making this aspirational goal a reality will require a collective effort among citizens, businesses and nonprofit organizations across the parish.
The panelists discussed planning and zoning in the parish, including the current New Directions 2040 comprehensive planning process. The speakers also discussed lessons learned from the controversial Medline project. They stressed the need for greater vetting of ordinances and seeking community input on the front end of such large projects. They contrasted that experience with the current public dialogue on the potential casino project in Slidell. They agreed the project has sought community input from the beginning, and it promises ancillary investments in quality-of-life projects in eastern St. Tammany. The panelists noted that voters will play a unique role in approving the casino project if the legislature approves a bill in the upcoming session to put it on the ballot.
The panelists also discussed longstanding resident concerns about infrastructure needs, traffic congestion and drainage. Cooper said his administration recognizes that new investment in roads, water and sewer systems, and drainage is essential, as development growth has outpaced the parish’s infrastructure capacity. He expects that some of the $50.5 million in federal stimulus funding allocated to the Parish could support infrastructure work, although the federal government has not released specific rules for using the money. In response to an audience question, Cooper noted that the funding could be used to extend broadband internet access.
Mental health, a concern for St. Tammany since before the pandemic, has become more so in the past year. In response to an audience question, Bourgeois noted that the Parish’s Safe Haven facility offers an example of a strategic collaboration between the Parish and the nonprofit community to improve mental health care.
Regarding economic development initiatives, Masingill highlighted St. Tammany Corporation’s Thrive 2023 strategic plan. He also explained how the economic development organization works with similar organizations in the area to foster regional cooperation. This includes St. Tammany Corporation’s work with Greater New Orleans, Inc., the economic development entity for the 10-parish region, as well as collaboration among five Northshore parishes. He also discussed the importance of St. Tammany’s economic integration with New Orleans and the Southshore.
The panelists also encouraged residents to get involved with the New Directions 2040 planning process and offer their thoughts and concerns. More information is available at www.newdirections2040.com.