Ascension council takes steps toward municipal sewer system

GONZALES — The Ascension Parish Council took important steps Thursday for its present, and possible future, in a parishwide sewer system.

The Parish Council approved a 42 percent rate increase for 483 customers on parish systems in isolated pockets of Ascension and agreed to seek a $60 million low-interest loan to pay for a broad new sewer system in parts of Prairieville and Dutchtown.

Tracking La. 42, La. 73 and Airline Highway, the heavily populated area has been eyed for years as the first step in the regional system parish leaders have long sought.

During preliminary committee votes Wednesday and again Thursday, council members noted the potential represented by the loan, which would be from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund overseen by the state Department of Environmental Quality. DEQ officials recently invited parish officials to apply.

“This is not parishwide sewer, but it’s that first step toward that journey, and it’s a big, big step,” Councilman Kent Schexnaydre said.

If approved, the loan would be for 20 years at 0.95 percent interest with an added two-year period to draw funds initially before loan payments started, parish officials said.

Votes on the application included a resolution dedicating $3.3 million per year from the general fund for debt service and a resolution authorizing Parish President Tommy Martinez to apply for the loan.

He told the council Thursday the process to pre-apply would start Friday if the council agreed.

He said if the pre-application is accepted, the parish will have to do environmental, engineering and financial plans. If those are accepted, the parish could begin drawing funding in nine months.

At Councilman Benny Johnson’s urging, the council provided a unanimous second on a motion to dedicate existing general fund revenue to show DEQ the council’s resolve after years of looking at a regional sewer system.

Formal dedication will not occur until the budget is adopted later this year, however.

“That’s why I ask for a unanimous second, if everyone is willing to do that, to show them that we are serious. We believe we have a responsibility to act for our parish and for our citizens, and we’re willing to take that step,” said Johnson, Utilities Committee chairman.

Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee was absent. Councilman Chris Loar, as council chairman, does not vote unless to break a tie.

DEQ Assistant Secretary Cheryl Nolan, who leads the Office of Environmental Compliance, watched in a rear row of the council chambers at the courthouse in Gonzales.

The council members also backed a $12.50-per-month increase in sewer rates for existing parish customers in Darrow, Hillaryville, Hope Villa and Country Ridge. The increase will boost rates from an unmetered monthly flat fee of $30 to $42.50.

Parish Attorney O’Neil Parenton Jr. noted auditors pointed out the need for an increase due to annual deficits with the systems.

But the rate increase may not show up on bills for about a month because the council must pass a clarifying ordinance next month, Parenton said.