Better parks now?

DERON TALLEY, EDITOR @DeRonTalley

Everybody is familiar with the saying talk is cheap, well in Ascension a group of citizens is ready to put their money where their mouth is. Citizens called for a resolution for the Ascension Parish Council to call an election for recreation improvements at the parish council meeting on June 19 in Gonzales. The parish council voted 7-2 approving the resolution. On Nov. 4, the citizens of Ascension Parish will have an opportunity to improve the current recreation parks and add more, but it will come by way of voting yes or no to support a 10-year, $5 million property tax.

Councilman Oliver Joseph, in favor, said the tax is a “no brainer.”

“We have put off and put off and put off,” Joseph said. “We are best known for putting off, that’s what we’re known for. And if we can piece it together, take a piece here, we’ll jerry-rig it. It’ll work but it won’t look pretty.”

“For me, it’s embarrassing to have your children go to a bathroom, and you only have four and one don’t work, or you don’t have any on some of the field,” Joseph said. “I’m going to be honest, I’m embarrassed.”

“Put it on the ballot. If you want it, vote for it,” Joseph said. “You don’t want it. You live in the Stone Age and that’s where we’re at. I encourage everyone to vote for it.”

Former School Board Superintendent, and current Parish Planning and Zoning Commissioner, Donald Songy along with a group of other citizens came to the parish council to ask for “better recreation now.”

“Twenty years ago we brought these recommendations forth, and my children were 12 and seven years old then. They are adults now and they still haven’t been acted upon,” Songy said to the council. “My grandchildren are five and two years old, and I hope history doesn’t repeat itself.”

Songy said it’s no secret that Ascension is the fastest growing parish in the state, and he also informed the council Ascension is also the youngest in age demographic in the state.

He said many new resident come for “our school systems, but while they come they express disappointment in our parish recreation.”

“The current state of recreation leaves a lot to be desired,” Songy said. “There are lots of unmet needs.”

Many families drive to other parishes to recreate with their children, and with an allocation from parish budget at $2.5 million annually to support 16 local parks, Songy and others feel that is inadequate.

Songy admitted the parish has many other needs that are important like transportation, and sewer, but he asked the council, “are we saying we can have good recreation or good roads, but not both?”

“If someone had told me when I was superintendent that we could have a good math program or a good English program, but you can’t choose both, I would’ve said that’s ludicrous,” Songy said. “We need both, both are important. Roads are important, recreation is important and other things are important as well.”

Mark Peters of Hope Youth Development talked about a way Donaldsonville could benefit from the extra taxing, saying it only needs a total investment of $2.8 million to provide an adequate amount of space and equipment for recreational needs.

“Donaldsonville needs this, our parish needs it, so let’s make this happen,” Peters said.

Allison Leake of St. Amant talked to the council about a potential Ascension Recreation Complex that could come out of the tax, which would include seven soccer fields, three football/lacrosse multiuse fields, seven baseball fields, five batting cages, six basketball and volleyball courts, walking/jogging trail around a lake, new access road, all on the 150 acres owned by parish near the River Parishes Community College site. That cost is estimated at about $8.6 million.

“There’s only one public gym currently in our parish and that’s at the Lamar Dixon, two volleyball courts and that is not enough,” Leake said. “The need for roads and sewers isn’t going away. Instead of picking one or the other, why can’t we get a tax for it that would alleviate the tax of $2.5 million from our roads.”

“I want to make sure our kids and grandkids have this. They deserve this. We deserve this so please help us improve the future of our kids,” Leake said.

In total the construction would costs $24.5 million dollars, and total estimates for the plan are at $31.8 million. The citizens group also offered proposed funding, a dedicated fund for recreation.

Ascension Parish Recreation Director, Mike Mohler, said the overcrowdings at current parks is a major issue. He said the parish has one gym and zero swimming pools.

“Upgrades on all parks is a must,” Mohler said. “I grew up in this parish. This is where people want to be and I think recreation is too far behind and I think we need to do something about it now.”

The majority of the council was in favor of what the citizens group proposed, at least as far as giving the parish as a whole an opportunity to vote on the improvements.

However, with a dissenting vote councilman Todd Lambert had concern about the industry’s property tax.

Lambert said he has done some research with the assessor’s office and found three petrochemical plants in Ascension paid between $200-400,000 in taxes last year.

He also took issue with the premise that the $2.5 million which recreation currently receives annually from the general fund could be allocated elsewhere if $5 mills are put in place for recreation.

“I’m not against recreation or this particular plan. It’s a good plan and I know these folks worked hard to create it. But it needs to be phased in as funding becomes available,” Lambert said.

“I know recreation is important. We just can’t throw all of this on our citizens at one time. I think it’s a good plan but we need to phase it in as we get money for it but as it in I just can’t support it,” Lambert said.

Councilman Bryan Malancon, provided the second dissenting vote, and said his constituents in Gonzales beg him not to put it on the ballot. 

“I assured them the changes wouldn’t be in Gonzales, because a lot of them are already supporting recreation there,” Malancon said. “There’s no way I can support it tonight. There are a lot of uncertainties with a lot of people right now; all of the properties are being reassessed this year. People are worried about that and we’re talking about having a vote to add extra taxes. Very many have come to me and said they don’t want it on the ballot so I can’t support it.”

“Donaldsonville needs this, our parish needs it, so let’s make this happen,” Peters said.