Despite a lawsuit filed by District Attorney Keith Stutes hanging over its head, the City-Parish Council Tuesday is expected to vote on an ordinance for final adoption that would strip roughly $650,000 in funding for the DA’s office this fiscal year, which ends Oct. 31.
The council issued a special meeting agenda late last week so that it can go into executive session to discuss Stutes v. LCG, the lawsuit Stutes filed in state district court May 17.
Stutes went to court last week to ask a judge to block the council from even voting on the ordinance but ultimately decided to take a wait-and-see approach depending on what happens at the council meeting tonight.
As The Independent reported in “Unintended Consequences,” the lead news article in our June issue:
Shortly after he was sworn into office in January 2015, Stutes let LCG and the Lafayette City-Parish Council know that he would stop paying so-called “reimbursements” to LCG for a portion of the D.A. staff salaries — a custom established by his predecessor, Mike Harson, who served as district attorney from the commencement of consolidated government in 1996.
Out of courtesy, Stutes nonetheless paid those reimbursements for 2015 — nearly $600,000 in four installments, but he did it under protest and refused to remit the reimbursements for the current 2015-16 budget that began Nov. 1 of last year.
The D.A. cites legal precedents including a state Supreme Court ruling to argue that LCG is responsible for paying the entirety of his office’s annual budget, which, according to the current fiscal year LCG budget, is roughly $2.2 million
The problem is, the previous council accounted for that $650,000 in the 2015-16 fiscal year parish budget it approved last summer, even though Stutes had already informed the council that he would cease the reimbursements in 2016. (Please be mindful that Lafayette Consolidated Government actually comprises multiple budgets and that the parish and the city of Lafayette have separate general funds; the former, LCG officials argue, is responsible for funding the DA office.) Now the money isn’t there and the council, of which four members are new, must adjust the budget for the parish side of LCG to account for the revenue shortfall. Council sources tell this newspaper the panel is likely to approve the ordinance stripping the funding from the district attorney’s office so that the issue of “consolidation” can finally be settled through the court system.