Cointment and Council allocate $800,000 to bail out Courthouse Construction Committee

First ever teleconference Ascension Parish Council meeting (4/16/20)

Another $2.2 million going toward new Council Chamber

Three years ago the Parish Council approved a resolution parroting enabling legislation to increase civil filing fees charged by Ascension’s Clerk of Court; and dedicated to pay off the bond issued to fund a new courthouse.  Those fees were supposed to pay for the new courthouse without a single tax dollar, even as the price tag increased from the 2017 estimate of $26 million to $28 million by groundbreaking day.  Still not enough as a unanimous Council approved $3,000,000 of Ascension taxpayer dollars on Thursday.

NOTE:  The first meeting since the scourge of COVID-19 sheltered many of us in place, it was convened via teleconference.

House Bill 327 from 2017 called for “monies generated” by the increased civil court fees to be:

“…remitted monthly by the Ascension Parish Clerk of Court directly to the Department of Finance for the parish of Ascension…” and “irrevocably deposited into the Ascension Parish Courthouse Fund dedicated exclusively to the design, acquisition, furnishing, construction, renovation, equipping, operation, and maintenance of a new Ascension Parish courthouse, and to renovate or convert any existing courthouse building, located in the parish of Ascension, and for the payment of any bonds or other indebtedness on any such facilities.”

So, why the need to expend Ascension Parish tax dollars?

Thursday’s resolution claimed “there is need of additional funding for the completion of Council Chamber and Audio Visual Equipment for the Courtrooms at the new Courthouse, and Ascension Parish Council desires to assist in funding this endeavor.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, the Ascension Parish Council authorizes the Parish President to transfer $3,000.000.00 for completion of the Council Chambers and audio visual equipment for the courtrooms at the new courthouse into the Courthouse Fund.

$800,000 (of the $3 million) will go toward that Audio Visual Equipment which was not factored into the original construction plans, nor the amount approved by Louisiana’s Bond Commission.  Oops.  Other than Judge Jason Verdigets and indicted Parish President Kenny Matassa, who else served on the Courthouse Construction Committee responsible for oversight of the project?

Current Parish President Clint Cointment, in reply to the only Council member curious enough to pose any questions (Joel Robert), omitted any specifics while referencing vigorous debate over whether or not to bail out the courthouse gang, i.e. commit $800,000 taxpayer dollars to make up the shortfall created by omission of equipment from the price calculation.

Which still leaves $2.2 million for which to account.  According to Cointment approximately $1.7 million will go toward construction of a Council Chamber in the new courthouse.  The remainder is allocated for “materials” (like furniture, and don’t forget the audio/visual equipment) in said Council Chamber…

“So we can continue to provide superior TV and audio for our meetings,” rationalized the parish president…”and to provide any other security measures that may be needed.”

That was during the disjointed teleconference Council meeting.  Afterwards Cointment would cite three reasons for the $2.2 million expenditure at this time.

  • Ongoing construction provides the best, most convenient and cost-effective opportunity to add the new chamber.  He “would have opposed the expenditure if the courthouse had been completed or any other new construction neede” for that matter;
  • There is a lack of security at the current facility; and
  • A need for expanded seating.

“There have been numerous council and committee meetings where citizens were forced to stand for hours on end to exercise their three minutes at the public speakers’ microphone,” Cointment added.