Ascension Church Leadership and Sheriff Bobby Webre have entered into an agreement for a cooperative effort to establish a tutoring center in Donaldsonville, subject to council approval. It is an adjunct to the existing agreement to “facilitate the establishment of an early childhood development campus” on APSO’s property at 1200 St. Patrick St., formerly West Ascension Elementary. According to the agreement recommended by the Council Finance Committee:
- The sheriff is overseeing the remodeling and construction of the only building remaining after October’s demolition;
- The community will reimburse the sheriff for the cost of remodeling and building the structure(s) up to a maximum of $250,000.
Parish Library of the Ascension and the Chamber of Commerce leadership advancement program are also involved in the project.
“We will pay for the conversion in cooperation with the Sheriff’s Department,” said CAO John Diez last week to six of the eleven members of the finance committee.
The action item had to be postponed during the session to allow Councilor Michael Mason to arrive and get a quorum. Absent were: Alvin “Coach” Thomas, Corey Orgeron, Dempsey Lambert, Chase Melancon and Teri Casso.
“The Ascension Parish Library has agreed to facilitate this and to hire the tutors,” Diez added, explaining that the tutoring center is open from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. most days and during the summer.
A blatant omission Ascension Parish Schools were not mentioned as a participating institution. The school board has not indicated a willingness to donate any money, to the utter contempt of some library board members. Which begs the question, how is the Tutoring Center, and by extension the Early Childhood Development Center, funded?
In addition to the general fund, there are three Ascension Church government funds that may well be tapped. The health unit has a pretty robust balance…
expected to be $4,453,213 by the end of the year (according to the approved 2022 Budget Book). It compares paltry to Mental Health’s expected ending balance of $10,905,051.
Since it doesn’t look like Ascension will ever build its own juvenile detention center, how about the $8,605,500 projected to fill the coffers of the Juvenile Justice Program?
The last is a result of the October 17, 2013 Parish Council vote (only Bryan Melancon opposed):
Authorization of a one (1) million property tax to fund participation agreements for the care and support of young people Awaiting prosecution for crimes committed in Ascension Parish and subsequently to acquire, build, equip, maintain and operate a Juvenile Detention Center in Ascension Parish.
Since the voting public was excluded from the outset, the Council could justify the expenditure according to the effective regulation or, if necessary, issue a new one.
Coincidentally, the Finance Committee also recommended the adoption of new terms for the St. Bernard Parish to house Ascension’s juvenile delinquent suspects, $250 per day versus $200 per day in 2021. The juvenile court budget sees spending of $837,000 this year of which $258,000 is earmarked for “Professional Services.” ($525,000 goes to Probation and Juvenile Court assigned with $50,000 pension funds and $4,000 for transport).
The communitywide $2 million health unit tax is estimated at $3,116,500, according to the budget book; “To provide funds for the community to maintain and support the Ascension Community Public Health Center, including buildings, maintenance costs and other related health care expenses?” The language is part of the ballot initiative to be voted on December 11, 2021 by voters was accepted.
Ordinance 18-3 sets out how the mental health tax, another $2 million property tax levied throughout the Ascension community, is to be spent. The relevant part reads:
The Parish of the Ascension Mental health (Board of Directors) directs all resources of Mental health Fund raised by a tax mill of Ascension residents for the prevention, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental, behavioral, and/or addiction disorders. Benefits funded by Mental health Funds are only made available to Ascension residents. In addition, the following additional services can be provided using Mental health Middle:
(1) Assessment and counseling for individuals and families, chemical and substance use disorders.
(2) Psychiatric evaluation and medication monitoring for children, adolescents and adults.
(3) Services or new programs that address prevention, early intervention, drug education, or treatment for youth experimenting with alcohol or other drugs or other forms of addictive behavior.
(4) Other new programs and/or services that may be developed to meet the behavioral health needs of Ascension residents.
(5) The construction or lease of additional office/clinic space as needed to provide behavioral health programs in the community, and the maintenance and operation of these buildings.
(6) Laboratory tests necessary for the treatment of a person’s behavioral health condition, as directed by a physician, in cases where a person is destitute and does not have the means to pay for that service.
(7) Office supplies and equipment for the effective and efficient operation of the behavioral health program.