Inside Report: Permit fee issue raises dispute

It pays to have friends in high places. And when you live in Pointe Coupee Parish, you can pay less.

A local developer recently experienced this perk firsthand when he was allowed to receive a more than $20,000 discount on a building permit to construct a nearly $8 million nursing home in New Roads.

The situation has at least one juror on the parish’s 12-member Police Jury highly upset.

Juror Justin Cox has accused a majority of his fellow jurors of “good ole boy politics” because they supported the administration’s decision not to force Gerard LaCour to fork over the $39,415 he actually owed the parish when it issued him a building permit in December.

LaCour was charged only $17,549 — the rate his permit would have cost if the parish hadn’t amended its building permit ordinance in May 2013.

LaCour said previously he asked parish officials if he could pay the lower amount because they failed to notify him the permit rates on his project, which he had been working on for seven years, had increased before he submitted his application. Paying the full price would have overextended his budget for the project, he claimed.

Juror Kyle Olinde, LaCour’s representative on the Police Jury, gave the parish administrator the OK to charge LaCour the lesser fee.

Olinde has said LaCour is in a “unique” situation, and he didn’t want to shut down such a large economic development project that would employ 40 to 60 people in Pointe Coupee Parish.

The Police Jury on May 27 ratified the administrator’s directive with an 8 to 4 vote. That decision was made contingent on the jury being able to amend its building permit ordinance again so that LaCour wouldn’t be forced to pay the additional $21,866 he still owed the parish.

“It’s not an incentive, like the way they’re trying to spin it,” Cox said. “Bottom line: it’s favoritism. Olinde wanted to do everything he could to help the guy out. If everyone was getting the same thing, I’d be OK with it. If we’re going to do this for him, we need to do it for everybody. Now they’re trying to cover their asses because they know they broke the law.”

Cox is convinced the parish has made itself vulnerable to potential lawsuits should one of the other 40 applicants who applied for building permits since May 2013 ask for refunds after having to pay the full price for their permits.

“There is no reasonable explanation as to why someone would go this far to help someone else,” he said.

The morning after the Police Jury’s May 27 decision, Cox fired off letters to the parish’s District Attorney’s Office, as well as the state attorney general and legislative auditor, asking officials to research the legality of the Police Jury’s actions.

In the meantime, attorney Dannie Garrett says he was asked at the Police Jury’s regular meeting June 10 to draft an amended version of the building permit ordinance creating “objective criteria” supporting the parish’s decision to charge LaCour less.

Garrett adds the Police Jury’s actions are legal.

“No one has waived the fee,” Garrett said. “They just made an administrative deferral of the fee for right now. When they adopted the fee schedule I don’t think they realized how much it would increase permit fees on large commercial projects. They may ultimately decide not to defer the fees and he’ll have to pay the full amount. I think they’re trying to take a cautious approach to this.”

Garrett said he intends to submit an amended proposal of the ordinance at the Police Jury’s next meeting on June 24.

Westside bureau chief Terry Jones can be reached at tjones@theadvocate.com. Follow him on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.