Funding committee to recommend new taxes

by Walter Pierce

Lafayette needs to balance its revenues and expenses; new taxes are a necessary part of the solution.

Future Needs/Funding Sources Committee members, from left, Chairman Chad Hanks, Jerry Prejean and Sarah Walker

A panel of Lafayette residents that has been meeting for a year studying Lafayette Consolidated Government’s revenues and expenditures is close to issuing a draft document with recommendations on how to equitably fund the operations of LCG, which operates on separate budgets for the city of Lafayette and the unincorporated part of the parish. The final document will undoubtedly, based on the current draft, recommend new sources of revenue — i.e., new taxes — to get LCG’s expenditures right-sized with its revenue sources.

“We went through extensive interviews of all the department heads; each council member had the opportunity to come pitch us for 30 to 45 minutes about the needs of their respective districts,” said Jerry Prejean, one of five citizen members of the Future Needs/Funding Sources Committee.

In broad strokes, the committee is focusing on five areas of consolidated government: drainage, roads and bridges, the parish courthouse and jail, police and fire protection, and parks and recreation, namely because all of them siphon revenue away from the general funds of the city and the parish. But committee members agreed Thursday that if four of the five areas of focus can be properly funded then the general funds can handle police and fire protection.

Chairman Chad Hanks

Prejean stressed that Thursday's meeting was preliminary. The council will be briefed on the draft proposals before a final document is drawn up and presented to the public and the council.

“Right now we’re coming with our first draft of what our recommendations will be. We’d like to get input from the public on did we totally just miss something, or are there some serious considerations or pieces we should be adding,” added Prejean, who is joined on the committee by Chairman Chad Hanks, Sarah Walker, Scott Hayes and Jason El Koubi. Councilmen Don Bertrand, Jay Castille and Kevin Naquin serve in an advisory role on the committee and Veronica Williams, council clerk, and Joseph Gordon-Wiltz, deputy clerk, also aid the committee.

Among the recommendations in the draft:

● Raise fines collected by the parish courthouse and jail and be more efficient at enforcing and collecting those fines. “If they would do their jobs in fine collection [the parish courthouse] would be almost self-sufficient,” noted Castille. The committee may also recommend a special temporary tax similar to the airport tax approved last year by voters to fund construction of new facilities, particularly a new parish courthouse.

● Create three to five drainage districts in the parish and let voters within each district decide by election whether to increase property taxes to pay for drainage improvements.

● Ask voters parishwide to consider a property tax up to four mills to fund parks and recreation and liquidate or transfer seven parks/rec facilities located in non-LCG municipalities to their respective host cities. Currently Lafayette’s 35 parks, 12 rec centers and three public golf courses are funded by a 1.92 mills tax passed by city of Lafayette voters in 1961 when the city had only 10 parks and three recreation centers. The millage, paid entirely by city of Lafayette property owners, generates $2.6 million in annual revenue yet the Parks & Recreation Department’s budget for operations and maintenance is roughly $7 million; the city’s general fund subsidizes the remainder.

● Reallocate current available city bond funds to road/bridge projects that are shovel-ready and high priority as well as ask voters to approve a temporary tax (similar to airport tax) to fund other needed investment in transportation infrastructure. The committee favors a sales tax for this approach. “Everybody that drives in Lafayette Parish, even if they come from other parishes to buy something here, they’ll be paying for the roads that they’re driving on,” observed Walker.

Councilmen Jay Castille, left, and Kevin Naquin serve an advisory role with the committee.

“We’ve kicked the can too far down the road,” added Naquin, who last year as council chairman spearheaded the formation of the committee. “It’s doing the right thing, having those discussions and bringing the public up to speed. It’s about where we are and where we’re going to go.”

Noted El Koubi, the CEO of One Acadiana (formerly the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce) and a recent transplant to Lafayette from Baton Rouge: “At the end of the day it’s going to be a political decision to determine what goes on that list and how big that list is for our community.”