Caroling at the Trailhead

Postponed to Friday, December 17th


Mayor's Budget Message for 2022

(A Long Read aka tl:dr)

General Overview

Operating costs across the country such as insurance premiums and demand for higher salaries continue to increase at a rapid pace. Public Works’ materials (PVC pipe and fittings, chlorine, lumber, lift pumps, backflow preventers, etc.) are seeing increases as great as 300%. As an example, electricity costs for sewer lift stations went up by $55,000. Fuel costs have at least doubled.

Fortunately, revenue from our sales tax has also increased, allowing us to keep up with most increases in cost.

Utility Billing

The rate we charge to provide sewer and water continues to be about 25% less than what it costs the City to provide sewer and water. Best business practices would suggest a small increase of the monthly rate each year.  I would suggest an increase of $3.00/month ($1.50 for each service). This incremental increase could keep us from falling further behind rather than actually closing the gap.

Sidenote: This action is not part of the budget, but requires a separate ordinance by the Council. We (Admin and Council) have yet to address this suggestion.

Sewer and Waste Water Collection

Like most cities over 200 years old, Covington has its share of subterranean infrastructure challenges. Most notably is our sewer collection system and wastewater treatment plant (WWTP).

On a dry day, our WWTP receives, treats and discharges 1,000,000 gallons of effluent into the Tchefuncte River. We do so in compliance with DEQ and EPA standards. This is perhaps one of the most important responsibilities of local government.

On a rainy day, our WWTP receives 9,000,000 gallons. Much of this is due to holes and breaks in miles and miles of terracotta, concrete and orangeburg (wood and tar) sewer pipes. This surge in rainwater is called Inflow and Infiltration (I and I). It is typical to cities of our age. It is a bad thing.

When one of our aging sewer lines has a leak, the subsurface erosion can manifest itself as a dimple in the road with a small hole.

Like an iceberg, what is below the surface is often much greater. Earlier this year, on N. Taylor Street, the cavity below this hole was large enough for a small car to fit into. The supporting road asphalt was cantilevered, a very dangerous situation. Failing to repair these caverns creates the huge “pot-holes” often associated with New Orleans.

In this particular case, the offending sewer line was made of concrete rather than terra-cotta. Sewerage creates methane gas. Methane gas dissolves concrete. Hence, each time a new cut was made into the old concrete pipe (to add a joint), the old pipe simply disintegrated. This resulted in the entire block of pipe having to be replaced from manhole to manhole at a cost of about $100,000.

Starting with the previous administration and through today, we (the City) have been proactively repairing the sewer lines. First, smoke testing and video to identify the breaks. Second, excavation and sewer point repairs. Third, a synthetic lining is inserted creating a like-new pipe. Much of downtown has been completed, River Forest repairs are under design and The Ozone to the WWTP is on deck.

These processes are expensive and time consuming. From budget to design to contract to completion of a project takes years. The 2022 budget continues this environmentally important task, utilizing monies from the general fund, American A Recovery P (federal Covid relief) and State capital outlay grants. We have budgeted $500,000 for-the-ready, if and when needed, to match the State grants.

The Wastewater Treatment Plant involves large mechanical pieces operating in a toxic environment. Maintenance, repair and redundancy are a priority. 

The “bar-screen” filters out non-biodegradable matter that finds its way from a commode, through the labyrinth of collection pipes and lift stations to the plant. This matter needs to be removed prior to the treatment process. As of two years ago, the bar-screen was broken … meaning this task was done by hand with rakes. This year,  we were able to replace the broken bar-screen.

Prior to the effluent leaving the plant, it is forcibly pressed by a “belt press” which removes any non-dissolvables. The resulting blackish granular substance is then loaded onto trucks and used as a fertilizer at farms. With only one belt press, our plant lacks redundancy. Should that press fail, our entire operation would cease. With a State capital outlay grant of $900,000 (thanks to Senator Patrick McMath and Representative Mark Wright) and a city match of $300,000, we are now in the design phase for a second belt press.

The WWTP operates on electricity. Hence, a back-up generator is crucial. When asked the age of the generator, retired Public Works Director Chris Davis replied, “It’s a dinosaur. It was here when I got here.” Chris just retired after 27 years. We just installed a new, more reliable and energy efficient generator this Fall.

The 2022 budget calls for the storage pond to be mucked out ($600,000). Retired Public Works Director Chris Davis could not recall the last time the pond had been mucked out. Doing so will give the pond greater capacity resulting in fewer overflows.

Limestone Overlay

The City has a number of gravel streets and alleys whose traffic count does not necessarily rise to the level of being paved. However, they do require maintenance. Historically, this has been done with gravel. Gravel, being round, characteristically “rolls away” over time. The 2022 budget calls for overlaying more of these streets and alleys with limestone. Although more expensive than gravel, the jagged shape of the limestone  characteristically “locks-in-place” and thereby lasts longer. It also tends to be more aesthetically pleasing.

Information Technology (IT)

Prior to taking office, an IT employee pulled me off to the side. He explained that I would soon learn that the single biggest problem the City of Covington faced was an underfunded IT department. That may be hyperbole, but the fact remains we have not properly kept up with our IT needs. The 2022 budget shows an IT spending increase of 50% which on its face seems ridiculous. There are two reasons for this high percentage increase: 1) We only spend $750,000 a year on IT. Police, Fire, Public Works and Admin chew up that amount easily. I would suggest we should be spending about $1,000,000 on recurring IT expenses. 2) The 2022 budget also includes $200,000 on a one-time expense. These two items combined result in the large percentage increase.

Police Department

Thanks to our City Council for voting to increase police pay. This department is now fully staffed for the first time in memory. We have increased from 13 patrol officers to 26 now on duty. This has resulted in increased traffic stops for speeding, increased patrols of subdivisions at night and increased removal of illegal firearms, drugs, prostitution and gambling from the streets. We now have a pro-active and engaged police force.

The building which houses Police headquarters is a different story. It was originally designed as city hall offices and is functionally obsolete for police purposes.  It has drainage issues, air and heat issues, roof issues and security issues. I do not believe the City is in a financial position to consider replacing the building at this time. However, it is something we should consider in the future.

Fire Department

Under Chief Gary Blocker’s leadership, major congratulations go to our Fire Department. Per the Property Insurance Association of Louisiana, the City of Covington’s insurance rating improved from a level 3 to a level 2. This is remarkable for a city of our size. For many residents this will mean a lowering of insurance rates. For all of us it means we are served by one of the best Fire Departments in the area. Budgetary note: The 10 mills of property taxes dedicated to the Fire Department does not completely fund the department. The City still must take $1,000,000 from the General Fund to cover the cost of the department.

Sidenote: This deficiency in property taxes to fund the Fire Department along with no dedicated millage for recreation are the reasons why residents of the City of Covington have the lowest property taxes in St. Tammany Parish. The latter is also the reason our area does not have a Parish recreational complex such as Pelican Park or Coquille.

The 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 budgets include a payment of $200,000 per year for the financed purchase of Ladder truck #1. Final payment is scheduled for 2023. It should be noted that Engine #3 is now twenty-one years old and Engine #1 is thirteen years old. Life expectancy for an engine is 15 years. Trade-in value declines after ten years.

Once final payment is made on Ladder #1, I suggest we continue to budget $200,000 per year for the replacement of the aging engines. By continuing to replace our trucks on a routine basis, we can avoid returning to an aged-out fleet.

Collins Boulevard

As the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) continues to finalize plans for bidding the new Bogue Falaya River bridge, I believe it is time we turn our attention to Phase II-B (the widening of Collins Blvd). U.S. Hwy 190 Bypass (Ronald Reagan Highway), LA State Hwy 25 (Folsom) and LA State Hwy 437 (Lee Road) all consolidate into one lane. This leads to one of the most significant traffic snarls in western St. Tammany Parish. 

In the 2022 budget I am requesting $500,000 be budgeted for engineering design work and right-of-way acquisition, predicated on a $1,000,000 match by St. Tammany Parish. We will also look to the State and the Regional Planning Commission for additional funding.

Currently, design work for Phase II is not scheduled to begin until after the completion of construction of Phase I (the Bogue Falaya River bridge to Lee Road). By moving this work forward, we could possibly shave years off of the process. By putting local dollars into the project, we enhance our chances of this project gaining priority.


Under Chief Administration Officer Erin Bivona’s leadership our current Administrative Department (Admin) emphasizes their role in helping make Fire, Police and Public Works successful. Admin views itself as the support system for the other three. This is a good thing. Thanks again to the Council for funding trainees to replace retiring Directors Nahketah Bagby and Aimee Faucheux. These individuals will be difficult to replace. We are grateful to each of them for allowing us the time to hire and train their replacements.

One of the greater challenges we as a city face is properly overseeing and managing approximately 60 capital projects at a time. As a retired builder, I know the time and effort required to properly manage the construction of one home. Six homes simultaneously is exponentially more difficult. Sixteen homes simultaneously requires significant help. Sixty homes built simultaneously would require an experienced and qualified team working together. In this budget, I have asked for two new positions in the engineering department: 1) An Engineering Intern. 2) A Project Manager. These additional personnel will allow us to develop a team that can properly oversee and manage the many important and necessary infrastructure projects already on the books.

Council Adopts Budget

Quite the Process

The budget process begins in June with Department Heads weighing their current budget (2021) against future needs (2022). This data is presented to the Mayor for detailed review in July. Administration creates binders (big binders) in August which are submitted to the Council for their review at the September Council meeting. In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida recovery, this process was delayed by one month.

After careful review, the Council submits scores of questions and clarifications to Admin. After research, these queries are answered. The Council then hosts a Budget Workshop where each Department Head and Director is held accountable for their proposals. Usually in October, this year the Workshop was held in November.

At their December meeting the Council unanimously voted to approve the budget. That said, the actual procurement / bid / request for proposals on projects cannot legally begin until after January 1st. Hence, why I often say, "The procurement process is time consuming, tedious and miserable."

Big thanks to the Council and all the staff for their hours of work and diligence in assuring that our tax payer dollars are put to the best use possible.

CovLA's Police Department Welcomes

The New Neighborhood Watch

Text your non-emergency concerns directly to a shift supervisor.

Need the Covington PD? Follow these steps to set-up:

Text "CPDLA" to 847411. You will receive an automated response that says: "Thank you for contacting Covington PD. Please submit your text, photo, or video tip. Text HELP for tech support or STOP to stop. Msg&data rates may apply."

Next, simply save the exchange as a contact called "Cov PD."

In the future, if you need to call for service, simply text your concern. Text messages go directly to the Covington Police Department's Shift Supervisor.


Assuming the officers are not currently engaged in a call, someone should be out to address the situation.

As always, if it is an emergency or you need immediate assistance, call 911.

Replies to this e-mail go directly to Mayor Mark.

Rooted in History, Focused on the Future

City of Covington, How Do I?

Recycling or Bulk Debris Pick Up