The Reckoning Redux

by Walter Pierce

The most recent meeting of the Future Needs/Funding Sources Committee underscores what a dire strait the parish side of city-parish government is navigating.


It could be three or four months before the Future Needs/Funding Sources Committee releases its final report to the City-Parish Council and mayor. It will likely be odd timing because the report will almost certainly be released after the October election, and the council that receives that report might be markedly different from those who take the oath of office in January; we will definitely have a different city-parish president. But the writing is already on the wall.

The committee, according to a report today by The Advocate’s Richard Burgess, was “painted a bleak picture” of the state of rural roads and bridges by Kevin Blanchard, Lafayette Consolidated Government’s director of public works:

“At some point, it’s a matter of what’s a priority,” Blanchard said after the meeting. “There is no magic bullet. There is no bridge fairy that is going to come here and build these things.”

What Blanchard told the committee — a volunteer citizens group, advised by three members of the council, which for about a year has been studying LCG finances — during the meeting should give any taxpayer in Lafayette pause (from The Advocate):

By 2016, money will still be available for drainage maintenance work, but cash for new projects drops to zero, according to the projections.

Capital for rural roads and bridges was projected to drop to $1.5 million in 2016, then dip to $750,000 in 2017, barely enough for a handful of overlay projects.

“With the funds we have in the unincorporated areas of the parish, it’s almost impossible to do anything,” said City-Parish Councilman Jay Castille, who represents rural areas in northern Lafayette Parish. “We are at a crossroads right now, and something has to happen.”

Blanchard said the city-parish budget for this year has about $300,000 for overlaying rural roads, yet the Public Works Department had identified more than $50 million in needs for overlay and other repairs, raising the specter that some roads will revert to gravel for want of repair money.

Think about that: grinding dilapidated paved roads back into gravel — the story also mentions closing some rural bridges — because the budget for such projects is $300,000 while the need is $50 million.

This is just part of much bigger, vexing questions facing Lafayette Parish in the 21st century: what are we willing to pay for the services we’ve come to expect from LCG? And what about the infrastructure we’ve already built, in many cases far out from the city center to accommodate the suburban sprawl that Lafayette embraced in the second half of the 20th century when oil made the Hub City a prototypical American boom town?

As this newspaper wrote in May in “The Reckoning”:

Like virtually every American community in the car-crazy 20th century, Lafayette grew out rather than in, abandoning its urban core in favor of far-flung suburbs that require a lot of roads, drainage pipes, electricity, water, public parks and police and fire protection. Developers bore some of the initial costs, and the short-term benefits in jobs and economic activity were real. But we built it, now we have to maintain it.

[C]onsultants weighed Lafayette’s tax revenue against its infrastructure maintenance liabilities and reached a stark conclusion that underscored the Future Needs committee’s findings: A typical household in Lafayette living in a median-priced home ($150,000) would need to pay an additional $3,300 in property taxes just to maintain the roads we currently have. For all the infrastructure — drainage, sewer, water, etc. — that figure rises to about $4,000.

Add to that the things our taxes (barely or don’t quite) cover that make Lafayette a live-able city rather than just a city/parish to live in: arts, culture, recreation.

Read The Advocate’s story here. “The Reckoning” is here.