Ascension council backs bill for taxing districts

The Ascension Parish Council approved a resolution Thursday supporting legislation backers claim would allow new property taxes and assessments to be levied only in new subdivisions to pay for road and bridge repairs.

Critics and some council members voiced concerns that SB278, proposed by Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, was too vaguely written to guarantee the bill would do only what proponents claimed it would do.

Critics said the bill lacked enough assurances that the ad valorem taxes could not be levied without voter approval and could not be levied parishwide.

Parish officials and Amedee envision creating taxing districts as landowners or developers request them when they build new subdivisions.

Developers would come to the parish to create special districts around the developments before homes are built.

Parish officials argued the legislation, as well as a possible end to accepting new roads into the parish maintenance system, is needed. Ascension revenue can’t keep up with an ever expanding road grid from suburban sprawl, parish officials say.

Chief Administrative Officer Ken Dawson showed the council new estimates saying that maintaining the existing 500 miles of parish roads in an acceptable condition would cost $9.2 million per year.

The parish takes in only $6.2 million from the two-thirds of a half-cent sales tax dedicated to road maintenance. Meanwhile, the parish is increasing its road grid by 1.5 percent a year.

“The bottom line is we are still taking in roads and we don’t have the funding allocated to pay for it at this time,” Dawson said.

The council also heard from residents and some on the council who were skeptical of what the legislation would authorize and whether funds were as short as officials were suggesting.

Councilman Bryan Melancon questioned Parish Attorney O’Neil Parenton Jr.’s claim that the bill’s language ensures taxes would have to be approved by a vote of the people.

Melancon said he has spoken with other lawyers who read the law differently. “So the fact that it doesn’t say it in here clearly that the tax needs to be brought before a vote of the people is a concern,” Melancon said.

The council backed the resolution, 6-3, after the members agreed to request added language making clear the bill would apply only to new developments.

Council members Teri Casso, Randy Clouatre, Benny Johnson, Oliver Joseph, Dempsey Lambert and Kent Schexnaydre voted for the resolution.

Councilmen Todd Lambert, Melancon and Travis Turner were opposed.

Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee was absent. Council Chairman Chris Loar does not vote unless to break a tie.

On Monday, Amedee had pulled a first draft of SB278, which called for Ascension Parish Infrastructure Development Districts not only for roads but also sewer, water and other infrastructure.

Amedee has developed a draft more focused on roads and bridges. He said earlier this week he would not refile a revised bill without council backing.