GONZALES — After two years of study by an exploratory panel, Ascension Parish Council members directed the next council to consider transportation impact fees in the first quarter of next year.
Members of the 11-person council, three of whom are leaving office in early January, sat as their Finance Committee on Monday and recommended the full council take up impact fees that the separate exploratory panel has been studying.
More than three years removed from Ascension voters’ resounding rejection of a half-cent sales tax for roads, the fees have been seen by some as another route to some revenue for road construction.
Gasper Chifici, the exploratory panel’s chairman, estimated Monday the parish would have raised $18 million if the council had approved road impact fees in June 2006. The council failed to get the super-majority needed to approve the fees amid strong opposition from homebuilders and others.
The fees would be charged on new development only and can only be used to address new traffic impacts, not old problems.
But some of the questions that dogged that earlier proposal have also begun to emerge in this latest plan.
Chifici told council members Monday that while his group has agreed on five zones in the parish where fees could be collected and spent, and also agreed on fee exemptions for private schools and churches, the group has not settled on how much the fees should cost.
The exploratory panel, which had a cross-section of members, including homebuilder representatives, has also largely forwarded the old draft ordinance the Parish Council rejected in 2006.
And, on Monday, some council members aired familiar concerns from 2006: How would areas in rural zones generate enough fee revenue to do projects and how would fees based on new impacts be applied to already failing roads.
Councilman Randy Clouatre said he wants to see more definition about under what conditions the fees could be used.
Chifici said a new staff position anticipated by the draft ordinance, an impact fee administrator, would have to make those calls.
“Again it’s complicated. It is complicated admittedly,” Chifici said. “The administrator and the staff have to figure out how to administer this so that it meets the letter of the law.”
He also said an assessment would have to be done to establish the current condition of Ascension’s roads.
In the absence of a consensus from the exploratory panel, Chifici came up with his own numbers based on nationwide adjustments for 2012 from the consulting firm that developed Ascension’s impact fees plan in 2006.
While fees vary by land use and square-footage, a 2,500 square foot home would have a fee of $1,933, a 40 percent increase over what the parish had considered in 2006.
Chifici said the residential and other fees he came up with are above what is charged elsewhere in Louisiana but noted the state is well below the national average on impact fees.
Another member of the committee and a builder, Billy Aguillard, said the panel is open-mined but has not agreed on the fees yet and still has work to do.
He said his biggest concern is having fees that are fair and equitable to everyone with no exemptions, though he agreed to an exemption for public schools because he does not agree with using tax dollars to pay for the fees.
“I think we have a work in progress and we have a very good group of people that can come forward with a recommendation in the future,” Aguillard said.
Outgoing Councilman Chris Loar proposed moving the plan to the full council but working with the exploratory committee to finalize a fee schedule.
The motion passed, 9-0, with outgoing Councilman Bryan Melancon absent and Councilwoman Teri Casso not voting as Finance Committee chairwoman.
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