Council votes for MPO

The Tangipahoa Parish Council voted unanimously Monday to join the cities Hammond and Ponchatoula for a Metropolitan Planning Organization and hire the Regional Planning Commission to seek between $3.5 and $5 million annually in federal grants for capital improvement programs.

The MPO was formed in the wake of 2010 Census, which showed that the area of Tangipahoa Parish from Independence to its southern boundary at Manchac, a region that includes Hammond and Ponchatoula, has sufficient population to qualify as a metropolitan area.

Hammond Mayor Mayson Foster said that about 67,000 residents live in Hammond, Ponchatoula and adjacent areas that remain unincorporated. He said that he, Ponchatoula Mayor Bobby Zabbia and Parish President Gordon Burgess have been working on the MPO designation for more than two years.

Walter R. Brooks, executive director of the Regional Planning Commission, said his group will assist Tangipahoa Parish in seeking grants for such things as transportation, roads, economic development, environmental studies and other projects that should improve the infrastructure and quality of life.

Council President Carlo Bruno said the cost of the parish’s participation in the Regional Planning Commission will be about $50,000 per year. Hammond and Ponchatoula will also contribute to the costs of retaining the commission, he said.

Also at Monday’s same meeting, the council, with no discussion, unanimously adopted the 2013 budget, which was introduced at its last meeting.

The budget anticipates expenditures of about $48 million. Anticipated expenditures for roads and bridges account for about 30 percent of the spending.

The remainder covers court expenses, the offices of the clerk of court, district attorney, coroner and registrar of voters, jail maintenance and numerous other expenses.

In a letter to the council accompanying the budget, Burgess noted that an increase of sales tax revenues for 25 consecutive months has helped the parish maintain a “solid financial position.” His “pay as you go” policy has allowed the parish government to “weather the economic downturn without increasing taxes or decreasing services to the citizens,” the letter says.