Aug. 22, 2012 03:47

JoDu: "The cost of business continues to go up and anybody who thinks that cost of doing business doesn't include government is living under a rock."

Depending on your perspective, the City-Parish Council Tuesday night voted to let property taxes rise in Lafayette Parish. But they did it by voting to keep the tax rates the same.

Following a somewhat impassioned - and sensible, we should add - plea from City-Parish President Joey Durel to run the parish like a businessman rather than a politician and maintain 2011's property tax millages for the city and unincorporated parish, the council voted 6-3 to "roll forward," a clunky way of saying "maintain," the millage rates. Because this is a reassessment year and property values have increased nearly 5.5 percent in both the city and rural areas, property owners will see their tax burden rise commensurately with their property values. In effect, rolling forward the millages allows the revenue stream from property taxes, which help fund everything from the sheriff's office and jail to the parish courthouse and public libraries - only a small percentage of overall property taxes go to Lafayette Consolidated Government - to keep pace with inflation.

C-P President Joey Durel delivers pointed remarks
to council members, urging them to maintain current
property tax levels for the city and unincorporated

"The cost of business continues to go up and anybody who thinks that cost of doing business doesn't include government is living under a rock," Durel told council members. "The cost of everything to the private sector goes up for government, too."

In making his point about politicians versus businessmen, Durel pointed to an unwillingness by previous elected leaders to ask voters to agree to adjust millage rates to meet growth. He used as an example the city-wide millage for the Parks & Recreation Department, which was set in the 1960s when the department maintained one recreation center, a handful of parks and one golf course. The millage has not changed in a half century, yet the department now operates 39 parks, 10 rec centers and three public golf courses.

Durel also pointed to the millage for the parish jail, which in the 1980s moved from a one-story facility atop the parish courthouse to a five-story jail across the street: "There was a millage to run that one-story jail. They built a five-story jail and didn't increase the millage," Durel said. "That is running government like a politician, because no business on this earth would increase their expenses without a corresponding revenue. And guess what? We've been able to do it without raising your taxes. And you think to yourself, Well, you see that? You don't have raise taxes because you ran that jail without raising my taxes.' And all we did was rob from Peter to pay Paul. We no longer cut grass and we no longer cleaned ditches and we no longer fixed roads."

State law requires municipalities to lower millages when property values rise so the resulting tax revenue doesn't exceed the prior year. However, a super majority on a legislative panel, in this case six members of the nine-member CPC, can vote to keep the millages at their current level, thereby ensuring that government revenue keeps up with inflation. Councilmen Don Bertrand, Kenneth Boudreaux, Jay Castille, Kevin Naquin, Keith Patin and Brandon Shelvin voted to keep the city and parish property millages at their current level; the usual suspects - "politicians" Jared Bellard, Andy Naquin and William Theriot - voted against.

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