Parish growth issues dominate Ascension Listens virtual meeting

Michael Tortorich
Gonzales Weekly Citizen
Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment, shown in a file photo from the Oct. 7 Ascension Parish Council meeting at the courthouse in Donaldsonville, held a virtual Ascension Listens event on Nov. 16.

Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment held a virtual Ascension Listens meeting Nov. 16, addressing an array of issues in the parish.

As the president has repeated in the past, population growth has exacerbated the two biggest issues facing the parish: transportation and drainage.

The event, which was available via Ascension21's usual broadcasting channels on YouTube and Facebook, began with a brief presentation. 

Cointment touted the recent implementation of the parish's Open Finance system, the building of the early-childhood development center in Donaldsonville, and the advancement of recreational opportunities such as the new Prairieville dog park.

He also displayed the Move Ascension transportation projects that have been completed and are in progress, along with proposed drainage projects. 

Cointment said it is critical to take a regional approach on drainage, which means working closely on shared waterways with East Baton Rouge, Livingston, and Iberville parishes. 

He noted the 18 percent population growth in Ascension Parish from 2010 to the 2020 Census was "too much too fast."

The Census counted 126,500 residents for Ascension Parish in 2020. A total of 19,285 residents were added to the parish count over the decade, which continued a growth trend since the turn of the millennium. The total has nearly doubled since 2000 when the count was 76,627.

Working with Kendig Keast consultants, the parish plans to ensure better growth by reviewing plans, codes, and ordinances, according to Cointment.

In addressing the boom in developments over recent decades, Cointment displayed a map of the area where the Old Mill and Plantation Creek neighborhoods are located south of Hwy. 74 and east of Hwy. 73. In 1998, the area had just 50 residences. Currently, it has 740 houses.

He said 77,000 gallons of water during a one-inch rain became run-off back in 1998. Now, 1.6 million gallons of water during a one-inch rain becomes storm water run-off.

Following the presentation, the president turned the floor over to the public for questions. Rae’Ven Jackson, the parish's community outreach director, assisted with the process.

Here are a few of the topics addressed:

Aerial spraying: Cointment said such spraying is typically done only after major storms. He added that property owners can request to opt out of spraying if they have concerns.

Green space: The president said the purchase of green space has been an idea that's been "kicked around." Instead of adding more subdivisions, he said more parks could be a possibility.

"I'm a conservative at heart, so I like to make sure we are spending our money wisely and we are getting the most bang for our buck," Cointment said.

Open Finance: Chief Finance Officer Patrick Goldsmith was among the key personnel who attended the event and fielded some of the questions. He said the Open Finance system allows for transparency and accountability as it shows "where the money is coming from and where it's spent."

Data displayed through the system is real-time and updated weekly.

Westbank: When asked about the Donaldsonville area on the west side of the parish, Cointment pointed out the recent announcement of the early childhood development center being constructed on the former West Ascension Elementary School campus.

Multiple government entities have joined together to bring about the center.

Cointment also said great things are happening in Donaldsonville's historic downtown area.

Prairieville incorporation: The president was asked about the possibility of the Prairieville area incorporating into a municipality.

Ascension Parish has three municipalities: the City of Gonzales, the City of Donaldsonville, and the Town of Sorrento.

Based on the booming population in the northern areas of the parish and its proximity to Baton Rouge, Prairieville would seem to be a primed to become Louisiana's newest city.

Cointment said incorporation would require structure and departments to be set up, as well as a significant tax base to run operations.

Parish government: In answering a question about Parish of Ascension employees, Goldsmith said a total of 434 positions are currently filled within the organization.

He added that 500 positions have been budgeted for, and recruitment efforts may be forthcoming to fill vacancies.

Cointment said parish government has a roughly $130 million budget, which takes care of various responsibilities on both the east and west banks.

"This is a massive organization. There's no doubt about it," the president said.

Industry: Cointment also touted the importance of the industrial plants along the Mississippi River, which provide jobs and a strong tax base to the area.

He reflected back on how his father would recall the times before plants moved into the area around the middle of the last century. He reminisced about how agriculture, like strawberry crops, was how people made money.

Now, Ascension Parish is the richest parish in the state based on per capita income, he said.

The economic activity produced by industry along the river drives tax revenues and supports indirect businesses.

Cointment closed by encouraging citizens to attend meetings, give feedback, and get involved with the parish.