DONALDSONVILLE — Nearly 10 years after road impact fees failed by a single vote, the Ascension Parish Council amassed unanimous support Thursday for the traffic fees on new development in a bid that backers say will help the parish keep up with continuing population growth.
After a political season last fall in which some council elections and the parish president’s race focused on how the parish manages its finances and growth, the new council, sensing it finally had the numbers, picked up impact fees right out of the blocks, after the topic had lingered in on-and-off discussions since 2006 and under review by a council committee for nearly two years.
The fees were adopted with limited commentary from the council.
A contingent of builders and real estate workers aired concerns about the fee’s effect on home costs for first-time homebuyers and the risks to Ascension’s future development.
Councilmen Daniel “Doc” Satterlee and Aaron Lawler, two vocal proponents of the fees, weighed in that a national planning group and empirical studies of impact fees suggest the fees don’t hinder development, while previous changes to the parish development code that builders had warned in 2013 were too expensive have not slowed Ascension’s growth.
“We are continuing to grow. We need to do this. This is the right thing to do. I’m all for it,” Lawler said.
Under the home rule charter, the Parish Council needs a two-thirds vote, or 8 of 11 members, to back a new fee or tax, but the vote on traffic impact fees wasn’t even close.
The council adopted the fee schedule that a parish consultant developed in the mid-2000s for the original impact fee proposal that failed and also shelved a modification of the fee schedule the special impact fee panel had recommended.
Some of the fees, including those on single-family homes, are graduated based on square footage.
The fee on a 2,000-square-foot house would cost $1,933, and would be charged at the issuance of the building permit.
Councilman Bill Dawson said the old fees will be in place for six months while consultant Duncan Associates, of Austin, Texas, does a new study to determine what more up-to-date fees should be.
With the fee program adopted Thursday, the council also quickly shelved a proposed six-month moratorium on new subdivisions that had been proposed as a halt on new major neighborhoods while the council developed impact fees.
Parish Attorney O’Neil Parenton Jr. said the moratorium proposal was “moot” with adoption of the road impact fees.
The council, however, did not completely kill the idea, but adopted a motion unanimously to postpone the moratorium “indefinitely.”
Builders and Realtors hadn’t made a major public push to fight the fees as the ordinance moved through the process this year but had begun contacting council members in recent weeks and showed up in Donaldsonville on Thursday to oppose the plan.
Before the vote, builder Bart Waguespack was among several people in the development industry who suggested fees will be passed on to new home buyers.
Waguespack noted the parish has recently started charging $2,500 sewer impact fees, which have been on the books for four years but not charged until February. With the addition of road impact fees, Waguespack said, a typical buyer could be facing about $4,500 in additional costs.
He suggested the parish consider other ways to raise revenue, such as a sales tax or a property tax.
He added that new construction is already adding to the parish’s tax base, but the fees will punish new residents and development.
“The parish needs to figure out a way to spend that money better ’cause new construction and new people coming in are bringing the money, and they’re paying more than their fair share,” Waguespack said. “I’d just like to see the parish allot that money appropriately.”
The council’s decision came about two months short of the 10-year anniversary of the prior council’s narrow failure to pass the fees in June 2006 and came more than three years after voters in Ascension resoundingly rejected a half-cent sales tax for road construction.
With no phase-in period, the impact fee ordinance takes effect almost immediately with the current fees, which is in about 12 to 14 days, after the standard parish advertising procedure for any new ordinance is completed.
The new impact fee ordinance lays out the procedures for charging, collecting and spending the fees. The fees, which have been estimated to generate $2 million per year and offer no exemptions as the special fee panel had once proposed, will be collected throughout unincorporated Ascension.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter @NewsieDave.