GONZALES — Jared Moss is a self-confessed soccer junkie, a former college soccer player and an IT guy who says construction isn’t his field of expertise.
But as president of the 1,400-child Gonzales Soccer Club, Moss is collaborating with Ascension Parish government and private donors to build and then maintain seven new lighted soccer fields at Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, the parish-owned multi-use complex near Gonzales with acres of vacant land.
Moss said the club now practices and plays games spread out on several fields in Gonzales and doesn’t have enough space for the demand for new teams in the youthful suburban parish.
“Of course, obviously for us, having one facility is ideal and it allows us to compete with other clubs who have one facility,” said Moss, 36, of Prairieville.
He said the fields, which will be off Interstate 10, will give the nonprofit club an opportunity to have regional tournaments between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, while opening up existing Gonzales fields now used for soccer.
The plan to build the soccer fields comes after voters rejected a proposed Ascension Parish recreation tax on Nov. 4 in an electoral shellacking, 62 percent to 38 percent.
The tax’s failure marked the third parish tax proposal voters have rejected since 2012 and led several parish officials, including ardent supporters of the recreation plan, to foreswear new parish taxes in the future.
The 5-mill tax plan would have generated $58 million over 10 years and put $31.8 million toward capital improvements parishwide. The parish sets aside $2.5 million a year for recreation.
The soccer fields were part of $1.8 million in recreational capital improvements in the failed tax plan that are now included in the parish’s adopted budget for 2015.
Last month, the council provided an extra $24,000 needed for design of a concessions stand and restrooms for the fields. Parish officials said they hope to have the fields largely finished by the end of the year.
The budget also calls for a new splash park at the parish-owned South Louisiana State Fairgrounds in Donaldsonville and for the repair and replacement of ballfield lights in various parish parks.
Critics of the recreation plan charged that the tax — though dedicated to recreation — ultimately would create a slush fund of new revenue and that new resources should be focused on more important needs than recreation.
Kathryn Goppelt, chairwoman of the Ascension Parish Republican Party Executive Committee and a leading tax opponent, claimed then that the parish was flush with revenue from industrial and other growth over the past 10 years. She pointed out that some projects in the recreation plan, like the soccer fields, were already in the 2015 budget.
“I mean they didn’t need that tax. They just wanted to create more revenue to do other things,” Goppelt said in a recent interview. “What they really needed to do is use what they have and do what we can. Not ask the people for any more money.”
Ascension Parish Councilman Travis Turner, a key council backer for the recreation tax, said parish officials are trying to make incremental improvements after the tax’s failure. The planned 2015 expenditures represent only a small part of what the tax plan would have supported, most of which is not being built, he said.
The soccer fields, for example, would have been part of a parish sports complex at Lamar-Dixon that would have included baseball, football and other fields and courts costing $8.6 million. The splash pads in Donaldsonville were one of four such water park features planned parishwide and were part of a $2.8 million master plan for the fairgrounds on the west bank.
Turner, who is chairman of the Council Recreation Committee, said the revenue allocated in the parish budget this year is largely from one-time grant sources or money saved over several years.
About $1.25 million, for example, is set aside for the soccer fields in the budget and is coming largely from state capital outlay dollars. About $313,000 is in hand and another $900,000 is hoped for at the end of the year, parish officials said. In addition, dirt work may be donated by an unnamed company.
“It is not parish revenue. It is not guaranteed, being a grant, one-time money,” Turner said.
The budget’s five-year outlook calls for no other recreation construction through 2019.
Goppelt said the soccer fields represent the kind of collaboration and savings the parish should be doing to upgrade parks.
Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, who is pushing in the Legislature to get capital outlay money for parish recreational facilities, said he hoped to get funding for the soccer fields first because they require less intensive infrastructure and then seek additional money for baseball fields in future years.
Amedee, who is in his last term of office, said he sees the benefit of a soccer complex but felt tax supporters asked for too much at once.
“I think it was just unreasonable, the amount of money they wanted to get,” Amedee said. “It all sounded good, but when you looked at the master plan, I think it was too much.”
But Amedee’s plan, if it continues after he leaves the state Senate, will take time.
Supporters argued last year one benefit of the tax would have been funding capital improvements quickly instead of waiting for years for grants to materialize.
Even with grant dollars going toward the fields, Turner said, the parish will further stretch recurring revenue to maintain the new facilities. About half of the tax plan’s revenue would have supported maintenance over 10 years.
Turner said that if he is re-elected this fall, he plans to consider a ballot measure in 2016 for a recreation district supported with a new tax for his council district, which includes the Gonzales and Geismar areas.
Moss, the soccer club president, said he understands those who question about the need for the tax if this backup plan had already been in the offing. But, as the club’s leader, he said he was not going to keep all his eggs in the tax plan basket.
He said the club plans to help with field upkeep in addition to the donations to help build it, keeping the strain off parish taxpayers.
“It’s a good deal,” he said.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.