Ascension panel takes broader look at impact fees

The Ascension Parish government panel investigating impact fees on new development gave itself a mission to look beyond fees for roads.

Though road impact fees remain the group’s primary goal, the panel agreed Monday that its mission also would be to consider fees for other parish services as a secondary goal.

The group, a subcommittee of the Parish Council Finance Committee, has been charged with pulling together an updated impact fee proposal as parish government tries to find ways to keep up with growth and the resulting overtaxed infrastructure.

The fees are generally aimed at making new development help pay for the impact it creates on roads, bridges and other infrastructure. The fees can be adopted by local governing authorities without a vote of the public.

Chairman Gasper Chifici, of the Impact Fee Exploratory Subcommittee, directed other members to look at a list of possible government services that could benefit from impact fees and be ready to put together a preliminary list next month.

“I think it would be good for us to think that way as we go forward. Even if we only look at transportation impact fees now, we’re going to learn some things about impact fees in general that are going to be helpful,” he said.

The parish Planning Commission backed the concept of transportation impact fees in January, but this new citizens group, which has three planning commissioners on it — including Chifici — has been asked to delve into the details.

The parish is taking another look at impact fees nearly eight years after an earlier transportation impact fee proposal by a committee similar to this new one failed to get enough Parish Council votes.

Other, more recent efforts to fund new roads have failed, including a half-cent sales tax a few years ago.

The new panel backed the broader outlook on impact fees Monday after hearing from Baton Rouge lawyer Charles Landry that the parish could not charge fees for services it does not already provide.

Sewer service, one area that parish government is trying to bring on line in northern Ascension with the help of a $60 million low interest loan, probably could not be the immediate beneficiary of fees because that system is not built, Chifici later said, but expansion of that system could.

The parish governmentdoes have small community systems in other parts of the parish already up and running and has grant-funded projects in motion.

Chifici read off a list of various services that could be aided with impact fees, including drainage, firefighting and recreation. Law enforcement and libraries were two options that Chifici quickly rejected.

Landry told the group that 60 percent of the cities in the nation with a population greater than 25,000 have impact fees of some kind.

He also pointed to Broward County, Fla., where a total of 15 impact fees have been added through the years.

Landry, who helped Ascension Parish develop the earlier, failed transportation impact fee ordinance in 2006, also gave the group a sense of the amount of work ahead of it.

He said the parish’s old ordinance had 14 drafts that were developed by a committee of about 20 people.

“It (the ordinance) was very, very well-thought out. It was a great committee,” said Landry, who suggested the seven-person group add a few members. He also told the new group that a key analysis done in 2006 by a hired parish consultant to establish the impact fee rates was now stale.

“You’ve got to start from scratch on impact fees,” he said.