GONZALES — Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa is changing how the parish reviews new development in the fast-growing parish by going back to an older way of doing things.
Matassa and his administration want to rely on an outside engineering company to review traffic and drainage studies required for new projects but say the process — despite requiring an additional budget of $250,000 — would be at least revenue neutral through a future revision in the fees developers pay for plan review.
Developers, under a future ordinance yet to be made public or approved by the Parish Council, would get only so much review by the parish’s consultant and then pay more in fees for additional reviews, parish officials said.
“Submit good plans, submit good ones, and guess what? It shouldn’t be a problem,” Ken Dawson, parish chief administrative officer, said. “Submit sloppy plans? You’re going to pay more, bottom line.”
Management of population growth in unincorporated Ascension often is squarely in the public eye and was a major topic in last year’s campaign for parish president. The proposed moves also come as the Parish Council moved quickly to adopt traffic impact fees this month and the administration recently began charging sewer impact fees on new neighborhood projects. Those fees have been on the books for four years but not applied.
For the past year or more, the use of contingencies by the parish Planning Commission to move along projects with unsettled drainage and traffic studies has stirred controversy as residents complained about adding to already overburdened infrastructure.
Matassa, who was elected last fall promising to cut the red tape for projects, has slowly revealed his plan for new development review while backing the Parish Council push for traffic impact fees.
Though road impact fees — a fee is paid for each new home, business or school — have eliminated the need for analysis of off-site traffic impacts from new development, Gautreau said developers still will need to study their subdivision entrance and exit.
Councilman Todd Lambert asked Matassa earlier this month in a Finance Committee meeting why the parish needed to make the switch.
“Why do we have to go outside and pay that kind of money for them, engineering to review them (plans), when we got staff people qualified and educated to do it?” Lambert asked. “They’ve been to school. We sent them to all kinds of schools to do these (reviews).”
While the Matassa administration has come under criticism for being too close to the development community, Dawson reminded Lambert that a major influx of developments last year required the use of the firm T. Baker Smith to help keep up with plans.
“It was just the volume that we had,” Dawson told Lambert.
The administration also has had trouble finding staff, Dawson said, while some staffers have left or are planning to leave, including traffic engineer Bob Turner.
CSRS, of Baton Rouge, took over T. Baker Smith’s role in mid-January and is working for the parish under a contract worth up to $24,999. The amount allowed Matassa to issue it administratively.
The company charges between $45 to $250 per hour. Work ranges from the product of a draftsman to hours contributed by the company’s principal owner. In mid-March, the council agreed to expand that contract to $49,900.
Earlier this month, Matassa got backing from a divided Parish Council to set aside $250,000 to hire a firm for plan review, which will replace the latest CSRS contract. Prior to the council’s April 21 vote, parish officials had refused to respond to requests earlier this month about whether the administration would seek proposals for that contract but required that a public information request be filed.
Matassa told the council on April 21 he would seek proposals for the deal. No request for proposals had been sought for the bigger contract.
Gautreau said Monday the process likely will take several weeks.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.