Cagnolatti motion kills Animal Shelter deal with six colleagues in support

Councilman Cagnolatti (file photo)

On Thursday the Parish Council declined to consider a 6.24 acre tract, east of Hwy 44 just north of Gonzales’ city limits, proposed by the Animal Services Board for a new Animal Shelter.  The 7-4 vote referred the item back to the Board with specific instructions to consider alternate locations, effectively killing the deal with a $550,000 purchase price.  Located in his District 10, it was Councilman John Cagnolatti who offered the operative motion to…

“Refer this back to the Animal Services Board and ask them to propose a different location altogether.”

Cagnolatti’s motion came after President Clint Cointment’s administration recommended a mere deferral in order to conduct a Public Information Meeting on February 28.  A press release had already been issued by the parish indicating that Shelter Planners of America’s Michael Barnard would participate.  Barnard and the organization has advised the Animal Services Board at every step in a lengthy process resulting in the negotiated price for the subject tract rejected by Cagnolatti who “heard from a number of constituents.”

“I wasn’t aware of it until yesterday morning,” the District 10 representative claimed, inexplicably since the same item was placed on the February 7 Finance Committee agenda for consideration in Executive Session.

The Animal Services Board was created by Ordinance dated October 3, 2019 “to provide oversight, management, advice, recommendations, financial and operations reports, and presentations to the Parish Council and administration on matters involving Animal Services and related issues in Ascension Parish, Louisiana. The ASB will have fiduciary responsibility for the Ascension Parish Animal Services Department and ensure animal tax dollars are appropriately spent.”

Among its tasks is to identify and vet potential sites for a new shelter, and…

“We have looked at sites for three years,” said Ruth Phillips, Executive Assistant to the Parish President.  “Every single one of them has failed for various reasons (price being foremost).”

Phillips explained that, as a governmental entity, the parish is prohibited from paying over 10% of appraised value.  In “a seller’s market” presently, “properties are selling significantly higher than that,” she added.

Council to consider $550,000 purchase of 6.24 acres for new Animal Shelter

The subject property’s price tag being identical to a Market Value Appraisal (see link above), it is doable.  Other parish-owned parcels under consideration failed to meet various criteria, including size requirements.  Certain others are improperly zoned and/or designated wetlands.

Phillips’ reasoning seemed to have convinced Councilman Dempsey Lambert.

“We’ve been dealing with this long enough.  We’ve got to, some way or another, move this forward.  Let’s face it, there’s limited space we have left,” he declared.

Only minutes later Lambert’s vote belied that declaration.

Councilman Aaron Lawler deemed the acreage “prime commercial real estate” that, if housing a shelter, would cost long-term tax revenues.

Councilman Corey Orgeron, who sat on the Animal Services Board for two years, wondered why Lamar Dixon Expo Center was not being considered.  The Lamar Dixon Foundation retained certain authority over land use at the facility, and the shelter does not meet its vision.

Councilmen Alvin “Coach” Thomas, Travis Turner and Dal Waguespack said nothing in defense of their votes.

“I will testify to the difficulty that (the Animal Services Board) have had in finding land,” Councilwoman Teri Casso, who sits on the panel, weighed in.  “I have long advocated…when land is properly zoned (like the subject property), it is an appropriate use, that gentleman should not be denied the opportunity to sell his land.”


She was joined by Councilmen Joel Robert and Michael Mason, along with Chairman Chase Melancon, in the minority.

“We have exhausted options for this animal shelter and I would strongly consider allowing us to have the public information meeting so that everyone can get fully-informed before taking this property out of consideration,” Ruth Phillips lamented.  “I don’t have any more options at this point.  It may be years that we are waiting for another location.”

Depictions of the subject tract, included in the Market Value Appraisal

“But I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls and two very stern emails from constituents…I’m just representing my people,” Councilman Cagnolatti had already meekly demurred.

A refreshing change indeed for a constituency John Cagnolatti has routinely betrayed, particularly when it came to East Ascension Drainage matters.

  • In 2017 he silently nodded as then Drainage head Bill Roux pitched a $20 million, two-tiered dredging plan for New River while insisting the City of Gonzales cover half the cost even as nearly a quarter of every dollar EA Drainage collects is generated inside the city;
  • May 2022 he joined Teri Casso, Aaron Lawler and Corey Orgeron in considering a “cessation of drainage works” inside the City of Gonzales and Town of Sorrento;
  • Sat in a silent stupor as EA Drainage dollars were withheld from a project inside the city…

City of Gonzales approves $573,000 Purpera Canal drainage improvement

Gonzales ultimately picked up the tab in another case of its citizens being double taxed because their representatives have failed them.  But, hey, better late than never.  We digress.

Back to the drawing board for the Animal Services Board.

According to Shelter Planners of America “visibility in a high traffic area” is the most important factor in increasing pet adoptions.  Assuming that is the imperative, does suitable acreage to house Ascension’s new animal shelter exist?  At an affordable price?