GONZALES — Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa outlined 10 projects his administration plans to focus on during his first year in office and, in the process, gave his strongest endorsement yet for traffic impact fees on new developments.
Matassa said in a statement that his administration would try to complete “implementation of traffic impact fees on new development” this year.
Impact fees are charges designed to account for the affect a sudden population increase caused by a new development has on local infrastructure and public services. The Ascension proposal would only apply to roads.
“Ascension Parish is a place where getting things done is the real measure of success,” Matassa said. “The people are ready for action on roads, sewer, drainage, transparency and a better quality of life. That’s what we are going to get done this year.”
From completing the purchase of People’s Water Service Co. in Donaldsonville to construction of the Edenborne/Ashland Road connector road project near Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, Matassa’s top 10 list includes several infrastructure projects that have been in the works or been the subject of discussion for years.
But Matassa also plans to review parish government’s organization, pay and manpower and its ordinances. Those pushes hew closely to some of his campaign promises and the wishes of several Parish Council members who have come into office with what they believe is a voter mandate to look at how the parish uses its resources.
Council Chairman Randy Clouatre, who had not seen Matassa’s list before the announcement Monday, said council members spoke with Matassa earlier this year about evaluating how well parish government operates.
But Clouatre added other projects that Matassa has prioritized share strong council backing, such as a ring levee around the Astroland subdivision near Darrow, a project Councilman Travis Turner and parish drainage officials have been advocating for more than a year, or the Laurel Ridge levee in St. Amant, a project Clouatre, his predecessors and the founding supporters of the east Ascension half-cent drainage tax have advocated for decades.
Another priority, a traffic master plan to prioritize improvements, came up last year in committee meetings and likely would be necessary to help direct where impact fee revenue should go.
“I think this focus is pretty much in line with everything we were working on at the time,” Clouatre said.
But Matassa’s priority list also hints at a shift in his thinking on impact fees or at least a recognition of what may be coming.
During the campaign last year, Matassa said he preferred trying to work with housing developers one-on-one to ensure they mitigated the impact of their projects rather than levying impact fees.
At the time, the then-Gonzales city councilman pointed to the roundabout and road widening on La. 44 and other improvements the developer of the huge Conway mixed-use development had agreed to make with the city. But Matassa also said then he recognized impact fees would be coming in the next four years.
Since the new term, the Parish Council’s push for impact fees on roads — as well as a six-month moratorium on new subdivision proposals until impact fees are adopted — has been swift. Ordinances on the fees and the moratorium are waiting on a final public hearing and vote April 7.
Ten years ago, builders and developers fought impact fees, saying the costs would be passed on to home buyers.
Lynda Evans, executive vice president of the Capital Region Builders Association, said she is checking with her membership, but many have said impact fees were inevitable.
Evans, who was one of the members of the Parish Council panel who developed the current impact fee plan, said she personally feels the fees are too high and would have opposed the plan had she been present for the last vote that sent a recommended impact fee plan to the council. She said she has questions about how those fees were determined without a full study to update the figures.
“That’s not the way it’s supposed to work,” Evans said.
Councilman Bill Dawson, a first-term member and strong backer of impact fees, said he was glad to see Matassa’s support of the fees.
“I’m glad to see he clarified that. That was one of the highlights, I thought,” Dawson said Tuesday of the top 10 list.
A key impact fee supporter, Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee, has raised questions about the proposed fee ordinance as structured.
Other projects on Matassa’s list include upgrading wastewater treatment facilities in Darrow and Hillaryville and the construction of a wastewater discharge line into the Mississippi River, construction of a multipurpose athletic complex at Lamar-Dixon and a software update to make the parish’s accounting systems uniform.
“These top 10 projects are my commitment to Ascension Parish residents, but they are not my only commitments,” Matassa said.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.