An award based on the following four characteristics: academic achievement, leadership skills, character and workZoe Dieringer - Student of the Year with the school and community is what was given to Zoe Dieringer, a 5th grader at Lancaster Elementary, Louis Cohn, an 8th grader at Boyet Junior High, and Grace Dragna, a senior at Mandeville High School. There were the finalists for Student of the Year competition in St. Tammany Parish, and they will go on to compete in a regional competition.  The regional competition finalists will be announced next month and include students from seven regions across the State of Louisiana.

Student of the Year awards are chosen specifically from grades 5 (elementary school), 8 (middle school), and 12 (high school).  Students are chosen from both public and non-Louis Cohn - Student of the Yearpublic schools.  After the regional competition determination has been made, the finalists from that event will go on to be selected as the Student of the Year for the State of Louisiana.  Portfolios by the students, writing samples, and interviews are submitted at the regional level to help in the judging of students.

The chosen students from St. Tammany Parish had numerous accomplishments.  Zoe Dieringer has a 4.0 grade point average, tutors other students, served on the Student Council, is a member of the band, playing the flute, and is  amember of the Nutritional Advisory Club, the Hammond Ballet Youth Ensemble.  She hopes to become a professional dancer and has been invited to attend the American Ballet Theatre Your Dancer Summer Workshop in New York City.

Louis Cohn’s accomplishments include starting left tackle on teh Boyet Junior High football team, a 4.0 grade pointGrace Dragna - Student of the Year average, a member and award recipient of the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, and was named Boyet’s outstanding Student in American History, Life Sciences and Reading.

Grace Dragna maintains a 4.56 grade point average and volunteers for and leads numerous organizations including the Mandeville Youth and Government Club, Political Thinkers Club, the Mandeville High Student Council, Feeding the Needy (Covington Rotary Club), So Others Might Eat Soup Kitchen in Washington, D.C., Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, the Samaritan Center, the Louisiana Youth Legislature, and the 2018 United States Senate Youth Program.  She is also a National Merit Semifinalist.

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On a location which was always considered the town center of Covington, there have been 3 courthouse buildings which have stood since 1837 when the St. Tammany Parish Police Jury bought 4 lots for the purpose of “planting” the Covington courthouse.  The original courthouse was demolished in 1884, and in 1886, a new courthouse was built which stood until 1957.  Then, the courthouse that now stands at the location was completed in 1959.  This courthouse is being considered city surplus and will be auctioned to the highest bidder towards the beginning of 2019.

The current building houses the 911 center for St. Tammany Parish.  It has been rented out for this purpose for approximately 10 years. A new 911 facility is being construction north of Lacombe and will be a 16,000 square footSt. Tammany Parish Courthouse building once it is completed.

Public preference in Covington has been that the current courthouse stay in the purvue of the city and be converted to a museum or public park space, however, with the budget shortfall coming up for the next fiscal year, an auction will be necessary.  To that end, the Covington City Council appointed a nine-member panel to do a study as to the uses for the building.

The building is 31,000 square feet and it also has a plaza in the front which is home to ancient oak trees, which are part of the charm of many public places on the Northshore. It is located at the corner of Boston and New Hampshire Streets and is currently owned by the St. Tammany Parish government.

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A plan 15 years in the making came to fruition the weekend of January 20-21, 2018.  The Children’s Museum of St. Tammany opened its doors to great fanfare that weekend.  The Children’s Museum which is located near the St. Tammany Trace Trailhead at Koop Drive, will begin to have regular business hours on Tuesday, January 23rd.  The museum has exhibits which are focused on toddler-age children to elementry-age children.

The idea for the Children’s Museum originally began with the Junior League of Greater Covington in 2003.  A non-profit was formed in 2011 called The Children’s Museum of St. Tammany to begin on fundraising activities to raiseSt. Tammany Parish Children's Museum money for the new facility. Partners in the endeavor include the St. Tammany Parish government and the St. Tammany Parish school district.

In fact, the St. Tammany Parish school district held its 8th fundraising event on December 1, 2017, which was led by the students to raise money for the museum.  A check in the amount of $19,377 was then donated to the Children’s Museum by school superintendent Trey Folse during a school board meeting on January 11, 2018. A total of $160,000 has been raised using similar fundraising efforts during the last 8 years.

The facility at the Tammany Trace Trailhead at Koop Drive is only an interim location for the museum. The final facility will be built on St. Tammany Parish’ planned cultural arts district on land adjacent to the Colonial/Pinnacle property at Louisiana 21 / I-12 and the Tchefuncte River.

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A sous chef with seven years’ experience working at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans will be opening a new restaurant in Old Mandeville, just 5 blocks off of Lake Pontchartrain.  The restaurant building which used to house Vianne’s Tea House and very briefly the Ugly Duckling Cafe will take on the new name of Hambone and will server breakfast, lunch, coffee and brunch on the weekends.

The fare will include traditional southern and Louisiana food like red beans and rice.  According to the new owner and chef, Luke Hidalgo, the menu will feature southern comfort food and include specialty sandwiches and smallHambone Commmanders Palace Restaurant plate meals.

“It’s that little bit of a turn that you put into your food on the front end that makes all the difference in the world,” Hidalgo said of his approach in designing his menu. “It takes a little bit of an extra effort, but it’s worth it.”

The endeavor is being taken up by Luke Hidalgo and his wife Marci, who he met at Commander’s Palace and who also has restaurant experience. The location of the new restaurant is 544 Girod Street.  In addition to working at Commander’s Palace, Hidalgo also has experience working as executive chef at Palmetto’s Restaurant in Slidell.  The new restaurant will have approximately 145 seats – 85 inside and 60 outside.

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For the fourth consecutive year, the crime in Covington, Louisiana, is down compared to previous years.  Covington, Mandeville, and Madisonville, Louisiana, all have very low crime numbers in St. Tammany Parish.  St. Tammany Parish is considered a very safe place to live and to move to according to people who currently live in this area.

However, the good news about crime being even lower this year in Covington, is excellent news for homeowners.  This news means that their homes will continue to appreciate in value as St. Tammany Parish remains a sought afterCovington Louisiana Crime Rates place to live and move.

Major crime in Covington went down by 22% in 2017, and these decreases were in the categories of rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and assault and theft.  There were increases in just 2 categories – burglary and vehicle theft.  Just one murder was recorded in Covington in both 2017 and 2016, which kept that category number the same.

“While the importance of crime statistics cannot be understated, and we are ecstatic about the fourth consecutive year of reduced numbers of crimes reported, the real success of our agency lies in the relationships we have built with our citizens in the community,” Police Chief Tim Lentz said in the release. “We are truly blessed to live and work in a community that cares.”

Community communication and outreach programs can be credited for the low crime rate in this area.  Community members have a good relationship with law enforcement which helps to keep information flowing and reduces or stops crime before it happens.  Several outreach programs have been put in place to help with the drug abuse epidemic, which seems to be a nationwide problem as well.

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You could call them St. Tammany “elves,” those are the volunteers who dedicate their time and skills at this time every year to make sure that families in need in St. Tammany Parish have both food and gifts to give their kids for Christmas.  The organization is called St. Tammany Project Christmas, and its purpose it to provide toys and a Christmas feast to 1,650 children, 30 senior citizens, and 650 families on the North Shore.

A vetting process is in place to make sure that the families that are being provided for are qualified to receive the gifts. The volunteers are employed to put together gift baskets filled with non-perishable food and vouchers for theProject Christmas Christmas meat selected by each family.  They also help with assembling gifts, including bicycles, to be given as gifts for the kids. Sometimes, there will be as many as 300 bikes to make sure they are in working order.

The centers and distribution sites where this project is conducted is located in Mandeville, Madisonville, and Slidell, Louisiana.

“The absolute worst thing that could happen would be for a child to be forgotten,” said Penny Weaver, who has been volunteering for the past six years.

The gifts and gift baskets are distributed all at once on what is known as Distribution Day, which is Saturday, December 16th. Volunteers of Project Christmas have been donating their time and efforts for years – one volunteer has been doing it for 11 years.  This year’s officers include Mike Callaway, vice president; C.J. Giffin, treasurer; Suzanne Switzer, secretary; and Rene Arsenault, Jewell Bayhi, Margaret Diaz, Elizabeth Lamulle, Wendy Norlin and Rick VanArsdale.

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The mayor of Madisonville and the man responsible for the construction of the new library which overlooks Lake Pontchartrain on the shore of the Tchefuncte River is Peter (Pete) Gitz.  Even though, typically, it is customary for someone to be deceased for 7 years before naming a building or a road after them, Peter Gitz watched his name being unveiled on the side of the new Madisonville Library on Wednesday, December 13th.  The old Madisonville library, which formerly stood on Cedar Street was damaged during Hurricane Katrina.

This unique event came about because the Louisiana Legislature approved an exception to the state law which wasMadisonville Library Named After Mayor introduced by Parish president Pat Brister and sponsored by State Representative Reid Falconer, R-Madisonville which allowed the naming of the new library after Peter Gitz while he was still alive. The purpose was to reward him for his years of service to the community and the accomplishment of seeing the new library constructed.

“This is one of those times when a good thing happens to a good person,” current Madisonville Mayor Jean Pelloat said in remarks which preceded the unveiling of the new building sign where dozens of people showed up to support the mayor. Described as a humble, small town mayor who was respected, 83-year-old Gitz served Madisonville for 10 terms as mayor.  Just as humbly, Gitz accepted the accolade with simplicity saying, “I just felt like we shouldn’t be without a library. I’m thankful to a lot of people who helped get this done. I’m really proud of everything that we’ve done and all the hard work people put into it.”

Located on donated land consisting of 1.5 acres, the library is a raised structure which is 14 feet off of the ground, and the cost of construction had a price tag of $4.7 million. With 15,000 square feet of space, it is one of the biggest libraries within St. Tammany Parish.

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For those diehard celebrants of national holidays who love their fireworks, there is good news to celebrate in Covington, Louisiana, this year. Fireworks have been made legal in Covington for the major holidays of the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve. A unanimous vote by the city council of Covington, Louisiana lifted the fireworks ban andFireworks Have Been Made Legal have allowed the sales of fireworks for the 4 days surrounding the New Year’s Eve holiday as well as 3 days in July for the 4th of July.

For many people, this will come as welcome news as they had already been putting on small fireworks shows in their driveways or backyards, or even full-scale displays for rural areas where there was a lot of land to catch any fallout from falling debris, but the fact that the sale of fireworks is now official will help with the local economy during these times of year as well. This change did go into effect for our upcoming New Year’s Eve celebration, so neighbors should expect a bit more noise during this holiday than normal, now that they will have local access to more fun-filled firebrands.

Even though the municipal law had only prohibited the shooting off of fireworks within city limits of Covington, it was up the police department’s discretion at some places as to where the city limits ended and unicorporated Covington began. This will take a lot of the pressure off the police department during these holidays to pursue other calls not involving unhappy neighbors and fireworks. The city council held a public hearing before voting unanimously in favor of lifting the ban and received positive support.

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One of the biggest challenges facing builders and people selling their homes in St. Tammany Parish and Southeast Louisiana are the appraisals that are given for the homes for sale and built new homes.  Recently, in the last few years, laws were established requiring banks and mortgage companies to choose appraisers from a universal list, giving each appraiser an equal amount of work. However, because appraisers are not required to go throughAppraisals intensive training and maintain continuing education, some appraisals that were turned in to the banks and mortgage companies fell far below what the perceived value of the house was.

This causes a problem for the closing process in that the loan amount is often more than the house is worth, according the appraiser.  The appraisal process for a home for sale or new home for sale in a new neighborhood or in a rural part of St. Tammany Parish, where there aren’t a lot of “comps” (comparisons of homes previously sold in the area) can be a stressful one for a home buyer looking to buy a new home or existing home for sale, unless it is a cash sale.  The appraisal dictates to the mortgage company or the bank how much the loan amount can be based upon the value of the house and / or the down payment of the buyer.

“An appraisal can vastly impact the mortgage process. This number alone can impact how much a buyer needs to bring to closing, or the current equity a homeowner has when refinancing,” said Bill Banfield, Quicken Loans Executive Vice President of Capital Markets. “If homeowners are aware of local home values and how they are changing, it will assist with a smoother mortgage process.”

However, there is good news for the real estate industry, the distance (difference) between the amount of the appraisal and new home and existing home prices has narrowed for 4 months in a row according to the National Quicken Loans home Price Perception Index (HPPI). Appraised values are still falling short of home prices, but the most recently logged margin during the month of September was 1.14%. This is good news for builders looking to sell their homes (and have them appraise) at market value.

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Interest rates have been driving the housing recovery, as well as the economic recovery in the United States since the housing market dropped out in 2008.  The Fed has kept interest rates at zero for approximately 8 years which has been attractive for both home buyers, new home buyers, and people looking to refinance their mortgages.

As the U.S. economy has recovered at a very gradual, yet very steady pace, the Federal Reserve, called The Fed, has,Mortgage Rate Increase within the last year, started to gradually increase the interest rates, once in December, 2016, again in March and then in June, 2017.  During the last meeting of The Fed, October 31st and November 1st, during a two-day meeting in Washington, kept the interest rate the same.  This could be  because a new pick for The Fed chair was expected on Thursday. Rates have stayed within the 1% and 1.25% range, with a rate increase expected in December.

New picks for the chair for the Federal Reserve include the current chair, Janet Yellen, and Jerome Powell, a Fed governor and John Taylor, an economist at Stanford University.

The economy is said to be strong enough to handle another rate increase, especially with the job growth and recovery due to the hurricanes in both Texas and Florida and the wildfires, which have increase restoration construction in California.  In addition, the United States unemployment rate is the lowest it has been since 2001 at 4.2%, and the job growth has increased for the last 83 out of 84 months.

The December increase in the interest rate will not cause a huge disruption in the home building industry as, even with the rate hikes, mortgage rates are still at historic lows.  However, the refinance market has slowed down a great deal once rates rose above 4%.

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