Ascension OKs tax to cover juvenile detention costs

Property owners in Ascension Parish will see slightly higher tax bills next year.

The Ascension Parish Council, in a near-unanimous vote, levied a 20-year parishwide 1-mill property tax Thursday night which will be used to fund juvenile detention costs and construct a juvenile detention center.

O’Neal Parenton, the parish’s attorney, said the money raised from the tax will be used first to fund a $456,250 annual agreement with Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack to house parish juveniles awaiting trial at the Assumption Parish Juvenile Detention Center in Napoleonville.

The revenue from the new tax also would cover any additional associated juvenile detention costs such as medical care or more beds than the guaranteed 10 provided to the parish in the agreement.

Whatever money remains after those costs are paid “is to be used specifically to build a juvenile detention center and to operate it after that,” Parenton said.

Justin Champlin, deputy assessor for Ascension Parish, said 1 mill in 2012 generated approximately $951,000 and cost homeowners with a $250,000 house and homestead exemption $17.50.

Daniel “Doc” Satterlee, the councilman representing the Prairieville area, said his residents were “largely supporting” of the tax, and while he had reservations about the council passing a tax instead of putting it on an election ballot, he would be “hypocritical” if he didn’t follow his constituents’ wishes.

State Revised Statue 15:1099.5 gives certain parishes, including Ascension, the ability to levy the 1-mill tax “for the purposes of acquiring, constructing, equipping, operating, maintaining, and managing a youth (detention) center.”

Councilman Bryan Melancon, the only Parish Council member to vote against imposing the tax, said residents in his district, which is mostly north and east of Gonzales, “overwhelmingly” spoke in opposition of the tax.

“I can’t in good conscience, for myself, vote to pass this,” Melancon said.

Councilman Kent Schexnaydre, however, said part of the reason he and his fellow councilmen were elected was to make decisions such as the one they made Thursday night.

“It is our responsibility to make that decision and not back out of it with the idea it would be better for everybody to go vote,” he said.

Although the leftover funds will be banked for future use to construct and operate a juvenile detention center in the parish, two council members said they hoped that facility would be built sooner rather than later.

“Let’s move pretty rapid on this,” Councilman Todd Lambert said.

“We’re a very self-sufficient parish here,” Councilman Randy Clouatre added. “Let’s see what we can do and get some numbers on what this would cost.”