In mid-September, The Independent sent a questionnaire to candidates seeking seats on the City-Parish Council — incumbents and challengers, 17 candidates total. Thirteen questions were asked of the candidates, ranging from general queries about big issues facing the parish to specific questions on topics such as tax increment financing districts and Downtown zoning.
We’ve gotten responses back from about half of them, and as we get more responses we’ll continue to compile them and alert readers when new responses have come in.
We’ve grouped candidates by district to promote ready comparisons of their positions by the voters who will elect them (and alphabetically within districts). We’ve only lightly edited for clarity the candidates’ responses; some use bullet points while others stick to prose, some are lengthy as others are brief, etc., but otherwise the responses are as we received them. Because many of the responses are lengthy, we’re running the questionnaire in installments. Today’s sixth and final installment concerns crime and the distribution and collection of taxes.
What is the most effective way to address the issue of crime in Lafayette’s inner-city neighborhoods?
JAY CASTILLE (INCUMBENT, DISTRICT 2):
The only way is to get the community involved. We can have a police officer on every block but that will not stop what’s happening in our neighborhoods. It will take a community effort. People standing up and communicating with the police department. Neighborhood watch groups are another effective way to help with solving this problem.
CHARLOTTE CLAVIER (DISTRICT 2):
We need a workable mechanism to put blighted and adjudicated properties back on the market. Absentee Landowners must be held responsible for locations that are rented to individuals that create crime havens in our community. Community Based Policing works, officers shouldn’t only be in the neighborhoods serving warrants and answering calls – they need to interact with families in the neighborhoods. Only with community support can police effectively control crime.
PAT LEWIS (3):
It’s no secret how unsafe our community has become. Lafayette parish has become riddled with heartbreaking violence that has deeply affected our community. The time is now for us to come together as neighbors, friends and most importantly concerned citizens and rally against the violence that has over taken our area. My vision is to promote police community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make our neighborhoods a safer and better place to live. A few ways that can we can address the issue of crime in our inner-city neighborhoods is by heightening crime prevention awareness, generate support for, and participation in, local anticrime programs, and strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships. By doing these things, we are sending a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back.
**JOHN PETERSEN (DISTRICT 3):
I believe Community Policing has to play a central role. When officers know an area’s residents, it results in trust and the opportunity for the community to be a collaborator in crime-solving and crime reduction.
**MONIQUE KOLL (DISTRICT 5):
There needs to be more expenditure on mental health and keeping people out of jail, starting with children.
**ALICIA CHAISSON (6):
Having a relationship with your neighbors can combat crime. Community-building events are especially important to create a sense of belonging and respect. Revitalizing neighborhoods with basic repairs and public art can go a long way to make citizens feel valued. Police can build collaborative relationships to become a welcome part of the community, rather than an outside force to mistrust.
**BRUCE CONQUE (6):
There is no one answer. It must be a community-wide initiative because the impact of crime anywhere affects all of us. The specifics will come as we engage.
**SEVIE ZELLER (6):
We need to empower the local churches and local neighborhood organizations. They are on the ground and connected with these families. Law enforcement is working to build trust and improve their community relations. We are seeing success with several programs, and I look forward to seeing them expanded.
**NANETTE COOK (7):
One of the biggest issues is to restore trust between law enforcement and local stakeholders in the highest crime neighborhoods. Community policing initiatives that engage a broad range of community interests are not as robust as they could or should be. There also needs to be support for greater training and equipment for officers who work in these high danger areas. This is both to protect law enforcement, and to protect the public. Additionally, I believe body cameras would help foster confidence in law enforcement and provide greater protection to both officers, and the general public.
**LIZ WEBB HEBERT (8):
I like Dee Stanley’s idea of forming a committee of Pastors in the inner-city neighborhoods to help bring unity and leadership to the community. And Joel Robideaux’s idea of increasing the crime stopper reward. It would be our responsibility as a council to work closely with our local law enforcement and first responders to make sure they have the funding they need for the equipment, training and support to execute their duty properly.
**GERALD JUDICE (8):
Education! There is not an overnight solution to this problem, but we can’t stop the violence if we do not teach our children to practice self discipline, responsibility for one’s actions, a sense of community involvement and civic pride.
CAROL ROSS (8):
More police presence, more programs that strengthen the family unit and empower neighborhood groups working together with all public safety entities.
Would you support widening the property-tax base outside the city limits of Lafayette to fund the Parks & Recreation Department? (Currently, only city of Lafayette property owners pay a small millage that was established in 1961, which does not fully fund the department’s budget, requiring additional annual funding from the city’s general fund.)
CASTILLE (2): I believe a parish wide millage is needed to fund recreation. I would support sending this to the voters to allow the voters to decide. I personally would support a right sized Recreation Millage and doing away with the city recreation millage. The recreation department should be totally consolidated to help everyone no matter where you live.
Recreation Opportunities for our children will help us all. Children who are tired can’t get into trouble. Although recreation taxes are only collected in the City of Lafayette, recreation is available to everyone in the parish. With a very modest investment in recreation we will see a substantial savings in police, incarceration and future productivity of these children.
LEWIS (3): I would support widening the property-tax base outside the city limits of Lafayette to fund the Parks & Recreation Department. Although Lafayette is the largest city in the parish, other cities should be able to do their part to help out. Lafayette should be willing to help support the other cities, but they need to be able to do their part in sustaining themselves.
PETERSEN (3): I’d be open to supporting this, and we should at least re-examine a funding strategy that’s gone unchanged since before the moon landing.
KOLL (5): Without fully looking into the issue, I do support funding for Parks and Recreation. The people affected should be well-informed and have a say into extending the tax base.
CHAISSON (6): I would support widening the property-tax base outside the city limits to fund the Parks and Recreation Department. I would explore the possibility of setting a tax proportionate with the number of parks in each recreational district, as I believe a flat tax across the parish is unfair to those outside of city limits with fewer parks near their homes.
CONQUE (6): Yes, I would support a parish property tax for a parish wide recreational program.
ZELLER (6): We definitely need to address this issue. There have been a couple suggestions as to how to go about ensuring that Parks & Recreation is fully funded. Widening the property-tax base outside of the city limits is a good, fair option, but this is something that needs to be presented to the people so that it is clear what their desires are.
COOK (7): I would be open to that discussion and would be eager to sit down with my colleagues on the Council who represent areas outside of the city limits to discuss the issue. That said, I want to learn more about the local recreation investments being made in Broussard and Youngsville that seem to be based on a more robust model for attracting events and attendance to their venues. I also want to ensure that the Director of Parks & Recreation has more tools for generating revenue from parks and rec centers. Online rental forms and more aggressive marketing of existing recreational assets would be a good first step.
HEBERT (8): I think that this is one option but we also need to realize that that millage was established when we only had a handful of parks, now we have 23 parks to maintain on the same millage. We also need to take inflation into account, as mentioned earlier we need to make sure that we are collecting the appropriate amount of taxes that we should be owed.
JUDICE (8): All taxes should seek the approval of the public. Our citizens wanted a major improvement to our airport and they voted to pay for it. They may want to support other projects if their is transparency in the tax and it is explained properly.
ROSS (8): See answer above.
Would you support additional staffing of parish tax-collection services to maximize collection of property- and sales taxes, which according to a general consensus within LCG could generate additional millions in currently uncollected revenue?
CASTILLE (2): Yes I would support additional staffing for tax collecting. I would also support an Occupational License. This would track businesses opening and closing and would maximize collections of all sales tax. We have to do a better job at collecting sales taxes. We currently have no way of tracking businesses who should be paying sales tax.
CLAVIER (2): We all have the responsibility to pay our taxes. We need the Consolidated Government to have the resources available to collect what is due to our government so we can provide services required.
LEWIS (3): First, I think we should evaluate the current staff that we have and see how we can maximize their efficiency and effectiveness. If it proves to be necessary, then I would support hiring additional personnel if it is needed after the evaluation is completed.
PETERSEN (3): If data shows additional staffing would generate additional millions in revenue, it seems wise to consider it.
KOLL (5): If the issue is understaffing, I do support it.
CHAISSON (6): I would support additional staffing. The cost would be negligible considering the potential revenue it could facilitate.
CONQUE (6): Yes. The Lafayette Parish School Board Sales Tax Office and the Parish Assessor must be empowered to fully achieve their respective responsibilities.
ZELLER (6): This is a complicated issue, and to be honest, I would need more information to accurately answer this question.
COOK (7): Tax compliance is an important issue. Everyone should pay their own fair share of taxes owed. I believe we should look at a variety of strategies to improve collection. One that might be effective and less costly than hiring more staff, would be to publish lists of non-compliant individuals and businesses, including how much is owed, and since when. That would allow public pressure to spur local tax collection entities to enforce the requirements of local law.
HEBERT (8): We should see if how the department is collecting the taxes is the most effective way of collecting. Also see if the people in the positions are trained and appropriate for those positions. If at that point we have determined that they are, we can look into hiring additional staffing but we need to make sure that we are not spending more than we hope to bring in.
JUDICE (8): I would have to determine the return on investment before adding staff to collect the current taxes due, but we need to enforce our current tax system before we consider any new taxation.
ROSS (8): The school board serves about 30 thousand students and @ 2,500 staff and receives over 33 mills in property taxes. LCG serves about 200 thousand with all services for about 17 mills. I believe the school board is and should be considering this already. I’d want to take a closer look at the numbers before deciding....and I would want to stop any future tax giveaways (special taxing districts) by government and any of its subdivisions or quasi-public bodies to be sure we’re collecting all revenues owed.