GONZALES — Ascension Parish residents will vote in the fall on two tax proposals to build and operate $31 million in upgraded recreational facilities and to continue funding Prairieville firefighters, unincorporated Ascension’s only fully paid force.
The Parish Council voted Thursday to put both tax propositions on the ballot on Nov. 4, when Sorrento residents also will be voting on a new police chief and also may be deciding whether to continue having a Police Department.
The council voted 7-2 for the new parishwide, 10-year, 5-mill property tax for recreation and voted 9-0 for renewal of a 10-year, 10-mill property tax for parish Fire Protection District No. 3 on the same ballot. The renewal also includes annual $100 parcel fees for commercial property and $32 fees for residential property.
Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee was absent; Council Chairman Chris Loar does not vote unless to break a tie.
The fire tax expires at the end of this year. The fire district corresponds to the Prairieville area.
The proposed recreation tax would give Ascension its first dedicated funding source for recreation, supplanting $2.5 million the council currently sets aside from the general fund.
Before the vote Thursday, the council heard a lengthy presentation on the recreation plan from a citizen committee that put it together and from residents — some wearing orange “Better Recreation Now” T-shirts — who support the plan. They argued that despite the growing parish’s other pressing needs, better quality of life here urgently depends on improving overtaxed parks that are driving residents and youth teams to other parishes to meet their recreational needs.
“But this is not going to get any better. We know this, right? Like there’s more and more people moving in the parish every single year, every month, every day, so this is just going to get 10 times worse,” said Allison Leake, 33, who coaches volleyball at St. Amant High School.
Committee members detailed the $24.5 million in upgrades planned: $8.8 million investment for various local parks, adding lights, parking, trails, scoreboards and other amenities and upgrading bathrooms, lights and other dilapidated infrastructure; $8.6 million in a recreational complex of various ball fields at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center; and $7.1 million in a new performing arts facility. The remainder of the $31.1 million in capital cost would be in engineering and contingencies.
The tax is expected to generate $58 million over 10 years. What is not used for construction would be used to run and maintain the recreation program.
On a $150,000 house with homestead exemption, homeowners would pay $37.50 additionally each year under the new tax.
Retired Ascension Parish schools superintendent Donald Songy reminded the council that 20 years ago he was part of another citizens group proposing a recreation plan that never happened. Voters defeated a 6-mill, 20-year recreation tax in July 1994.
“At the time, my children were 12 and 7 years old. They are now adults, and these recommendations that we made 20 years ago still haven’t been acted upon, realized,” Songy said.
“My grandchildren are 5 and 2 years old, and I hope that history does not repeat itself and 20 years from now, we’re saying, ‘Oh, I wish we had done some improvements to recreation.’ ”
While no speakers before the council opposed putting the recreation tax on the ballot, councilmen Todd Lambert and Bryan Melancon opposed the tax, citing the tax impact on business and industry and residents who they said were against it.
Melancon brought out that the tax would be collected in unincorporated Ascension and also in the municipalities.
Lambert said the tax would greatly affect the parish’s industrial sector — giving the largest chemical plants added tax bills of several hundred thousand dollars each — when the sector is already a major revenue source for parish government.
“This would be another addition to them. That’s one of the reasons I’m objecting,” he said.
Prairieville Fire Chief Mark Stewart said in an interview earlier Thursday that the fire millage generates about $1.6 million per year for the department’s operations.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.