Bids high on Ascension government building, officials look for savings

Bids for new consolidated Ascension Parish government offices have come in about $1.3 million more than officials set aside for the project.

The parish received several bidders for the 33,480-square-foot, one-story contemporary building, but Parish President Tommy Martinez attributed the higher than expected costs to a 10 percent rise in steel prices.

Parish government had set aside about $5 million for the proposed administrative complex, surplus funds left from the now-defunct East Ascension Hospital in Gonzales after the hospital service district board was dissolved in 2012.

Martinez has argued for the complex to bring together parish offices spread out in the Gonzales area, some of which are in leased buildings.

“I think it’s something that needs to be done for the future while we’ve got the money and we can go do it,” he said earlier this week.

The proposed complex would be built on the site of the now- demolished hospital on West Worthey Road, which is near other government buildings in Gonzales, including the parish Courthouse Annex and a parish Clerk of Court building.

Martinez said administration officials are in the process of trimming back costs before the Parish Council Finance Committee receives a full report on the bids July 7.

He said he hopes to have the overage cut down to about $800,000 when the committee meets, which is made up of the entire 11-member council.

Council Chairman Chris Loar said Friday he had also heard the bids came in high but believes the complex still needs to be built.

“I want to find out more about the details of where we’re over,” Loar said. “Maybe have some outside experts look at what and where we can save and if there are ways to trim it.”

While parish officials plan to cut, the parish’s financial auditor told them earlier this month that record sales and property tax collections in 2013 and disciplined spending have boosted surpluses across dedicated and undedicated funds. In addition, the parish is going to have a little more spare cash than even expected in 2014.

Martinez said the parish will not have to pay out about $1.4 million in planned sales tax rebates for first of two Methanex Corp. methanol plants under construction along the Mississippi River.

Martinez said Methanex officials recently told him that they would not be claiming the rebate for the first $400 million facility, which is being shipped in pieces from Chile and reassembled in Geismar.

In 2012, the Parish Council authorized up to $1.61 million in rebates from the parish’s 1-cent rural sales tax. The rebate was for construction and equipment expenses. The parish has been holding sales tax collections from the project aside until Methanex claimed the rebate.

Meg Mahoney, spokeswoman for Methanex in Geismar, said the Vancouver, Canada, company would be pursuing state statutory investment tax credits for the first plant instead of the parish sales tax rebate. State law forces a choice between one incentive or the other.

“You have to pick one. You can’t do both,” Mahoney said.

Through December, the parish had set aside about $4.5 million in sales tax collections for pending rebates for five different companies with major projects in Ascension, including Methanex, a parish summary table says.

About $355,000 of that total has since been claimed by Dynamic Fuels, the table says.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave