Revenue committee: New taxes needed

by Walter Pierce

After nearly two years studying city-parish revenue, the Future Needs/Funding Sources Committee recommends a slate of new revenue measures to fix Lafayette’s mounting fiscal ills.

It seemed inevitable a year ago when the Future Needs/Funding Sources Committee released a draft version of its study that new revenue sources, i.e. taxes, will be necessary if residents in Lafayette Parish want to maintain anything approaching the level of services they’ve traditionally received from consolidated government. On Tuesday night, committee members made it official, recommending higher and in some cases new taxes to fully fund five areas of government services: roads and bridges, parks and recreation, the parish jail and courthouse, drainage, and police and fire protection.

The panel recommended establishing drainage districts throughout the parish where increased property taxes could be levied to address specific drainage projects within each district. It also recommended widening the property tax that supports parks and recreation to the entire parish; currently only city of Lafayette property owners foot the bill for dozens of parks, recreation centers and golf courses, and they do it via a property tax that was established in the early 1960s when Lafayette had about a tenth of the facilities it now has. Current tax collections for the Parks & Rec Department cover roughly half the cost of running the department; the remainder is covered through the city’s general fund, although everyone in the parish uses the facilities.

The panel also proposed a temporary tax similar to the one levied last year for the airport terminal project to fund needed road and bridge projects, in addition to increasing fines and more efficiently enforcing fine collections to better fund the jail and court systems.

The Future Needs/Funding Sources Committee comprises five citizen members chaired by sugarcane farmer Chad Hanks. It was advised by three council members. The committee spent nearly two years studying the budgets of Lafayette Consolidated Government and speaking with department heads about their funding needs.

Watch the committee’s report by clicking here; discussion begins at roughly 33:00 into the meeting.

For background on the issues facing the parish — issues made more urgent in this painful era of falling sales tax revenue and depressed oil prices — read our May 2015 commentary, “The Reckoning.”