GONZALES — The Ascension Parish Council agreed to a $143.4 million budget for 2018, boosting already sizeable proposed expenditures under the parish's new road program by $2.5 million in the final version of parish government's annual spending plan.
Overall the new budget represents a 14.4 percent spending increase over 2017, but all of that increase — about $18 million — stems from greater planned spending on a variety of capital projects. In addition to the road work, the parish plans to spend $52.1 million on capital projects overall, including $12.6 million in drainage work, $5.4 million for new or upgraded fire stations and nearly $1 million for new roofs on public buildings.
The additional funding for the $35 million Move Ascension program over the next few years came after council members agreed this week to boost spending on engineering expenses by $3 million for a second round of road projects proposed under the program.
The council also agreed to spend up to $3.9 million on land purchases for the first round of Move Ascension projects for which engineering and design work has already begun.
Known as "immediate action" projects, these first phase projects are a series of lane widening and intersection improvements on Roddy Road, roundabouts at Parker Road and La. 929, and at Roddy and Churchpoint roads, a new road to link Ashland Road with the newly built St. Landry-Edenborne connector, and lane-widening on Henry Road.
The planned lane-widenings will not add new lanes but will widen existing, narrow travel lanes to improve safety.
Parish officials and their consultants have said the design, engineering and land acquisition for these "immediate action" projects won't be ready to be put out for construction bids until the end of 2018, but Move Ascension has the funds already set aside to build the first phase roads.
Earlier this year, the parish took out a $25 million bond issue and is counting on reserve dollars, state and federal match money and other sources to fund the rest of the spending on Move Ascension.
With the Parish Council's adoption of the final budget Thursday night to include the additional Move Ascension expenditures, the parish now plans on $12.5 million in spending on the program in 2018, said Gwen LeBlanc, the parish's chief financial officer.
Council members voted on the additional engineering and right-of-way spending for Move Ascension and then the new 2018 budget with little debate or comment Thursday night.
Changes on road spending and other final alterations mean the final 2018 budget calls for 3.3 percent more spending than originally proposed for the new year, up from $138.7 million to $143.4 million.
On the day-to-day operations side of the budget, a category that include annual payments for long-term debts, the parish plans to spend $91.3 million, a slight decrease from spending in 2017.
That side of the budget reserves nearly $1 million for pay raises, though parish officials have said they have not decided the actual amount that will be spent or method through which the raises will be offered.
Earlier this year, a parish consultant recommended the parish move more toward merit-based raises as opposed solely to cost-of-living increases.