When city of Lafayette voters opted overwhelmingly, 67-33 percent, in November of 1992 to consolidate Lafayette city government with parish government — voters in the smaller towns of Broussard, Carencro, Duson, Scott and Youngsville chose to abstain from consolidation — the city of Lafayette and the unincorporated parish sang a lusty verse of “Come Together.”
But lost in that spirit of “we’re all in this together,” which was the big sell for consolidation, was the reality, now since realized, of what the city actually got: the privilege of being nanny to the parish.
We’re not all in this together. Broussard isn’t, nor are Carencro, Duson, Scott and Youngsville; they remain autonomous — in charge of their own budgets and revenue streams. In charge of their own futures.
Only Lafayette, the parish seat and more than 10 times over the largest city in the parish, is subject to “outsiders” (people who don’t live in the city or pay city property taxes serving on the City- Parish Council — people who have no “skin in the game” in other words) making decisions about the city budget and sources of revenue. And let’s be honest, the outsiders’ preferences for how the city of Lafayette spends its money is quite often at odds with those of city residents.
In his budget message given to the City-Parish Council last summer, C-P President Joey Durel laid out the issue in stark terms:
“It should be clear to anyone examining the funding structure for the parish that it is time for a change. The Parish General Fund and, in most cases, the Parish Dedicated Funds are simply too small to meet the parish’s needs. There is a train wreck coming if something isn’t fixed. We have to accept the fact that there is a problem, but there are solutions, some more realistic than others. It is beyond time for a serious discussion about possible, credible solutions. We should not put these issues on the backs of future generations.
“One of the most basic principles by which we are expected to operate is that ‘government should operate within its means.’ Consolidation has allowed ‘parish’ government to operate beyond its means, and has prevented ‘city’ government from operating within its available means.”
That nanny thing. Or maybe it’s indentured servitude:
The city has tried twice since 2011 to remedy the situation — first through a charter commission that recommended deconsolidation, a recommendation that was soundly rejected at the polls in a parishwide vote that included voters in the small towns who aren’t even part of consolidation to begin with; and again in 2013 when the council declined to even empanel another charter commission.
In that second failed attempt, the ordinance to create a second charter commission was sponsored by four of the five council members whose districts are majority city of Lafayette. But a fifth “city” councilman — Andy Naquin, the only councilman whose district is wholly within the bounds of the city — joined the four “parish” council members in blocking it from getting to a final vote. If that isn’t a distillation of the inequity of “consolidation” we don’t know what is.
But the fact remains: Lafayette Parish is broke. Parish property taxes, which are paid by everyone in the parish including in the smaller towns, are not adequate to pay for the services the parish is required to provide, namely the operations of the sheriff’s office, clerk of court and parish courthouse. There are no capital improvement projects — no new roads, bridges, drainage projects — planned for Lafayette Parish. Even as the city of Lafayette prospers, the unincorporated parish languishes. And that should be every local municipality’s problem — we’re talking to you Broussard, Carencro, Duson, Scott and Youngsville — not just the city of Lafayette’s.
Lafayette, the city and chief economic engine of not only the parish but the eight-parish Acadiana region, is prosperous almost in spite of “consolidation.” — WP