Sewer proposal would create rate-setting Board consisting of non-Ascension Parish majority

Ascension Sewer’s Jeff Baudier at microphone with Tom Pertuit in tow. (file photo)

Pursuant to a recommendation by the Corey “One Apple” Orgeron-chaired Utilities Committee comes Item 6(r) on Tuesday’s Video Conference Parish Council meeting:

Approval of a five-person ACUD#2 Advisory Board (Utilities Committee Recommendation)

It is a precursor to the Council’s consideration of allowing three individuals residing outside of Ascension Parish to set monthly wastewater treatment rates paid by Ascension citizens.  It would mean that a majority of ACUD#2’s board would be comprised of individuals who do not reside in Ascension.

The agenda item is innocuous enough since Ascension Consolidated Utilities District #2 was created by Ordinance 18-113 a decade ago.  The ordinance includes the following language under Paragraph (b)  Governance and authority:

(1) The Ascension Consolidated Utilities District No. 2 shall be governed by the Ascension Parish governing authority. The governing authority shall appoint an advisory board of five (5) members, which board shall assist in the operation and administration of the affairs of the consolidated district under the general control of the parish governing authority. Such board shall be organized and have such powers and duties as the parish governing authority may determine.

(2) Members of the board are required to reside within the district.

Ten years having elapsed since codification, the governing authority, i.e. the Parish Council is finally getting around to creating that “advisory board” mandated in the ordinance.  Why now?

On November 21, 2019 the council amended 18-113 to enable ACUD#2 to conduct business outside its current geographical boundaries, the east bank of Ascension Parish.  It was done to facilitate negotiations with Ascension Sewer, a consortium powered by Bernhard Capital Partners which provides sewer treatment in East Baton Rouge, Iberville and Livingston parishes.  A single council member opposed the amendment, that was lame-duck District 2 Councilman Bill Dawson who had lost his seat (by 44 votes) on October 12.

On May 26 Ascension Sewer submitted a revised Construction, Operating and Cooperative Endeavor Agreement that requires the Parish Council to stock the Advisory Board with a majority of members who do not reside in Ascension Parish.  Obtained pursuant to a recent records request (which Parish Attorney O’Neil Parenton attempted to block), the new proposal adds a paragraph to Section 4.4 Rights and Responsibilities of the District:

“As owner of the System, the District retains the ultimate authority and control over the System.  Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, the District’s specific rights and responsibilities with respect to the System include:

(v) the responsibility to present to the Parish Council for formal consideration the enactment of such amendments to the District’s enabling legislation by the Parish Council to permit representatives of East Baton Rouge, Livingston and Iberville parishes to serve as members of the governing authority of the District or as part of the District’s advisory board.

“The District” is defined by the proposal as “Ascension Consolidated Utilities District #2 governed by the Parish governing authority pursuant to Section 18-113 of the Parish Ordinances and includes any successors thereto”).

Three parishes not named Ascension, each getting a representative on a five-member board.  That’s a majority of members who do not reside in Ascension Parish who will have an awful lot to say about policy, and rates, if the Parish Council does this deal with Ascension Sewer.  We would be shocked if Bernhard Capital Partners does not already have the EBR, Livingston and Iberville parish members selected.

How do you like them apples?