GONZALES — After nearly four months in office, Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa is unveiling one of his first major changes to the operation of parish government.
Longtime East Ascension Drainage Director Bill Roux has been tapped to lead a reorganized and consolidated parish Department of Public Works that will bring together roads, drainage, engineering, capital projects and fleet and vegetation management.
Consolidating the old DPW, East Ascension Drainage and other departments will affect 181 parish employees, about 45 percent of the total parish workforce in 2014, according to the parish’s most recent audit.
Though no employee layoffs are planned, parish officials promised greater efficiency and cost savings of about $4 million per year. The savings, officials said, can be put into major road projects for a parish that has not seen a new parish road built in decades.
Parish officials announced the changes last week, and Roux went into detail Monday night with the East Ascension drainage board in Gonzales.
Ten of the 11 Parish Council members who sit on the drainage board received the changes well, saying they liked to hear about improving efficiency and saving money.
“We feel like with everybody involved now, even if you don’t save money, if you provide better service to the taxpayers,” that’s a good thing, Council Chairman Randy Clouatre said.
Roux told the board that under the consolidated department, the parish will be broken into five DPW zones with four on the east bank and one on the west bank and will build a DPW substation in the Prairieville area to house employees dedicated to the two northern east bank zones.
Roux said last week the zones will allow workers to focus on and learn the intricacies of a smaller area, cut down on mobilization time and allow employees to take care of a variety of issues at one time.
The consolidated department will be managed by five assistant DPW directors who will report to Roux.
Roux’s new role is something of a throwback for him. A parish employee since 2000, he was DPW director under former Parish Presidents Harold Marchand and Ronnie Hughes.
Roux, who will report directly to Matassa in his new job, still needs council backing, however. Kyle Gautreau, a parish government spokesman, said officials hope to present the change to the council in May.
Roux is paid $100,000 per year as East Ascension director, but he said he and Matassa are negotiating a salary for his new position.
A critical piece to the consolidation is the new method of tracking the expenditures of voter-dedicated tax dollars.
For instance, East Ascension drainage has a 5-mill property tax and a half-cent sales tax dedicated primarily to off-road ditches and major drainage projects. Roads in the parish are paid for with two-thirds of a half-cent sales tax but also draw on undedicated general fund dollars, primarily for road ditch maintenance.
This complicated mixture of revenue has led to divisions among various employees to ensure dedicated tax revenue was spent legally. But Roux said the divisions also caused inefficiencies as different crews paid from different revenue sources had to handle different jobs, say road ditches versus the ditch behind someone’s house.
“There will no longer be a distinction between a road-side and an off-road ditch. If it carries water, it’s a ditch,” Roux told the board Monday night.
Before the Martinez administration, Roux told the board, DPW employees were consolidated and paid with percentages from each fund in an attempt to ensure dollars were spent correctly.
This time, the parish is setting up a new DPW fund. Each dedicated revenue source will contribute a percentage of the total DPW revenue each year.
The parish will rely on its work-order software to track expenditures, audit those expenditures and then annually rebalance the dedicated funds that either gave too much or too little to the DPW fund.
Roux said the parish’s auditors have backed this method of tracking dedicated revenues.
He said the structure will allow the parish to tackle several different kinds of jobs in one area at one time.
“I kind of liken it to locusts: When we go through, nothing’s left standing,” Roux said Monday.