Melville and other towns could lose police and utilities

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MELVILLE, LA — On Wednesday morning Louisiana’s Legislative Auditor listed 18 towns and villages as fiscally distressed, among them are four inside Acadiana.
Washington, Melville, Basile, and Baldwin were all listed as places that may not be able to continue to provide basic services.

So we reached out to each town and traveled to Melville to hear how they are trying to avoid that fate.

“Melville was not always in this shape, so we’re trying to get it back to the way it once was,” said Velma Hendrix, Mayor of Melville.

The small town of just under 1,000 people rests on the east edge of St. Landry Parish, hugging the Atchafalaya River, but Melville is dwindling away.

“We have no money. We seriously have no money,” town alderwoman Jayme Johnson explained. “We have to dish out to take in, and at this point, we don’t have anything to dish out.”

That’s why a state fiscal review committee is monitoring the town.
With bills from 2016 to now, Mayor Velma Hendrix said the town is relying on grants and loans to keep its water system safe and up to date.

“We’re trying to pay off these debtors and do the best we can,” she said.

Looking around town, it appears many of the best days the area has seen are behind it. A ferry, catfish festival, pharmacy, bank, and other businesses have all left town.
Melville has one local grocery store, and their single gas station reopened recently but only Monday through Wednesday each week.

Many citizens admitted buying gas and groceries outside of Melville because of the price. Many citizens have decided to move places with more to offer.

Johnson said, “People need to understand we don’t have things here because we’re not supporting locally. You can’t survive if you don’t have any business.”

The audit says what the town does offer could soon be lost. Basic services everyone living in a town comes to expect such as their police department and utilities like water, gas, sewage could end in Melville and the 17 other towns listed unless changes are made.

If Melville loses its police department, Melville Police Chief Anthony Moreau said response time could go from 5-10 minutes to well over 40 minutes depending on the situations across St. Landry Parish.

“I hope nothing happens to lose our police department. We need it,” admitted Melville Police Chief Anthony Moreau. “We’ll just have to rely on the sheriff’s department if that happens.”

Those who chose to live here say they will make sure the fiscal situation doesn’t come to that point, but they say it has to be a community-wide effort.

“It can’t be one person,” said Johnson. “We need everyone to come together.”

After the water system is updated, the town of Melville plans to apply for grants and loans to update its roads. Mayor Hendrix said she is in discussion with a fiscal review committee that provides recommendations to place the municipality on a path to fiscal stability.

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