OPELOUSAS — St. Landry Parish officials are targeting a former Arnaudville hospital that closed its doors four years ago as a redesigned facility to promote aspects of French and Creole cultures while some residents are questioning the move.
The Parish Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to dissolve the governing board of the former St. Luke’s Hospital District created in 1963 by officials in St. Landry and St. Martin parishes.
Although St. Luke’s is in Arnaudville, St. Landry Parish President Bill Fontenot said the taxing district created to collect revenues to run the hospital included portions of St. Landry and St. Martin parishes.
Fontenot said the St. Martin Parish Council is expected to take similar action that introduces an ordinance in the matter at a meeting next month.
The ordinance abolishing the hospital district will enable the parish governments to use about $1 million remaining from a property tax millage once used to operate St. Luke’s, Fontenot said.
The money will be placed in a fund for the maintenance of the former hospital building when it is used as a cultural immersion center, the parish president said.
Fontenot told an overflow crowd at the council’s meeting that it “is perfectly legal” for the two parish governments to eliminate the board, which once oversaw the hospital’s operation.
Two lawyers supported Fontenot’s statement.
Parish legal advisor Andrea West told several speakers at the meeting who questioned the council’s action on the ordinance that legal bodies have the power to abolish entities they create.
“The law says (the council) may dissolve the board,” West said. “I don’t see anything where it says they must do so.”
James Cagnina, of Arnaudville, told the council he prefers having the St. Luke’s board members oversee the transformation of the project rather than parish government. “That’s a scary situation for the voters who voted in this tax,” Cagnina said.
Cagnina also questioned why the council considered it necessary to abolish the board.
Willie Wyble, of Arnaudville, asked the council why St. Luke’s could not remain as a hospital that would be run perhaps more profitably by another facility.
“If so, it could make a profit and keep the taxes,” Wyble said. “I don’t understand how you can just dissolve a taxing district like that.”
Chris Goudeau, an Opelousas attorney, told the council the taxing district’s revenues were for maintenance of the hospital and not for the services the hospital provided.
“As long as those revenues are used for upkeep of the building, there is no legal problem,” Goudeau said.
Fontenot told the council the remaining revenues from the millage would not leave the taxing district.
“The money that is there is going to remain with the building to put it back into business,” Fontenot said.
Fontenot said public hearings will be scheduled in St. Landry and St. Martin to gather input before the council in St. Landry is scheduled to vote on the matter Dec. 19.
Some of the former hospital rooms will be used as dormitory-style dwellings for students interested in the French language and other indigenous cultures in the Acadiana area, he said.
Fontenot also said there is considerable interest by some Louisiana universities, including LSU and Tulane, in being involved in the project.
Goudeau, who is a member of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, said the project will emphasize the arts, create economic tourism and the preservation of all cultures that exist in the parishes surrounding St. Landry and St. Martin.
“There are plans for cultural and artistic exchanges that will occur because of this effort,” Goudeau said. “It will bring students from other countries into our area who want to study the French language and the way of life here.”