With voter approval of Ascension’s $9.26 million sale of sewer infrastructure assets to National Water Infrastructure (NWI) on April 24, the deal is almost consummated. Louisiana’s Public Service Commission must sign off on the deal; a mere formality (one would hope). Council sights have already shifted to consider how to spend the funds:
- Annual franchise fee set at 4.5% of NWI’s gross receipts
- $9.26 million from the sale itself
- The savings from no longer subsidizing sewer treatment on the east bank
- Residual dollars in two existing funds tied to parish sewer treatment operations
On Thursday the Council will vote on the ordinance that reads:
“Upon completion of the sale of the East Bank Sewer Utilities assets all franchise fees received as a result of the sale shall be dedicated for use by the Recreation Department.”
Anticipated to yield between $4-500,000 annually to begin, as NWI expands its customer base the annual franchise fee is projected to approach $1 million by the end of its 20-year franchise. Thursday’s vote is a foregone conclusion…
What about the rest?
Councilman Chase Melancon, from the chair of the Utilities Committee over which he wields the gavel, introduced the concept of a Mega-Infrastructure Fund.
“The goal is to ensure these dollars are spent on infrastructure projects,” Melancon explained. “When state and/or federal match projects come available we will be ‘shovel ready’ and have funding available in reserve to put up our matching portion. We made promises to our voters, to spend these former sewer dollars on infrastructure projects and creating this fund will ensure those dollars don’t disappear into other accounts.”
On top of the $9.26 million sales price, two existing funds (from which Ascension was going to pay NWI’s predecessor company $15 million pursuant to never-executed 2019 agreement) could be transferred to the Mega Fund. And Councilman Melancon is pushing to add an annual amount commensurate with the General Fund monies spent to subsidize sewer treatment in the past.
That last amount, pitched during the campaign as $42 million over the last decade, represents the “25% excess” from Sales Tax District No. 1 which has been going toward sewer subsidization according to Councilman Dal Waguespack. Waguespack expressed a favorable opinion of Melancon’s proposal…”in principle.”
“I’d like to see us do a little more work on what this fund is going to be utilized for,” he said. “I’d like to see it maybe dedicated to something…that we don’t have money for today, something more specific as we pour money into a new fund that’s gonna build and build and build. I’d hate to have it build over five years and just be sitting there and we don’t do anything with it.”
Waguespack is one of 11 votes which decides how every dollar is spent by Ascension Parish Government. As such, he is in a perfect position to guard against those concerns.
One of the questions he and his colleagues will have to answer, a question politicized by two inherently corrupt political parties on the national stage…
WHAT IS INFRASTRUCTURE?
“I also don’t want things to get left out,” said Councilman Aaron Lawler. “Recreation is very important to me because we’ve got a lot of young families, a lot of elderly people that are looking for things to do. I don’t want all of that money to, all of a sudden, all thrown into drainage or transportation. We’ve got a lot of other needs in this parish.”
Lawler does not want “this amount of money that just falls into our lap and we start spending it on new employees and salaries, and just general thing that we (inaudible) not well thought out.” He claimed to have “heard concerns that we’re going to spend it on new employees and that sort of thing.”
“That’s within the purview of both the council and the administration,” Lawler took some ownership, at least. “We just don’t need to go hire a bunch of people right now unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
The May 24 Employee Master Roster reflected another reduction in parish payroll, another $800,000 pared from overall salaries over the last three months. President Clint Cointment’s administration has steadily pared the roster since taking over on January 6, 2020, saving multiple millions of dollars in annual salary.
One of two council members with a west bank constituency, Councilman Alvin “Coach” Thomas opined on the need to provide “safe water on the west bank.” Advocating for funding to “change out the pipes” in the Parish Utilities of Ascension (formerly Peoples Water) system, Thomas opposed the recent discussion “about selling that system.”
“I’m not for that,” Thomas declared.
If Ascension is going to stay in the business, there is an obligation to deliver safe, potable drinking water to west bank residents. It will eat up a substantial amount of the dollars accruing from the sale of east bank sewer infrastructure.
Harold Lasswell was correct. Politics really is deciding “Who gets what, when, and how.”