A citizens committee exploring the finances of city-parish government for the past year is expected to issue recommendations next month on critical needs for funding local government in the coming years.
On Monday, the five-member Future Needs/Funding Sources Committee narrowed its focus to a short list of issues, including road maintenance and construction, drainage, parks and recreation, the parish jail and the parish courthouse — areas where committee members say needs are great but tax revenue has not kept pace with the demands of Lafayette’s growing population.
“We know we have an issue that will only get worse,” committee Chairman Chad Hanks said.
Still undetermined is if the committee members will issue a report simply highlighting what they see as a growing funding crisis or if they will make specific recommendations on how to address the financial problems.
Hanks, a local farmer, said Monday that he believes city-parish government is running a fairly efficient operation and he sees little fat to cut.
There has been talk in past meetings about recommending higher taxes, but committee members on Monday were still unsure if that should be part of the group’s final recommendation.
“I don’t know if it’s our position to play the fall guy,” said committee member Jerry Prejean, of IberiaBank.
The City-Parish Council formed the Future Needs/Funding Sources Committee in February.
In meetings over the past year, the group has heard from a long list of city-parish department heads, staff and council members.
Lafayette Fire Chief Robert Benoit told the group that he needs another $8.2 million for salaries and equipment, and Police Chief Jim Craft handed the committee a $22 million wish list, including money for 40 new officers, a new police station and two new precinct substations.
Parks and Recreation Director Gerald Boudreaux told the committee that his department faces dim prospects in future years without an increased recreation tax or other revenue source, and the committee has seen dire budget projections that call for less and less spending on roads and drainage in rural areas because tax revenue in the unincorporated areas is not enough to meet the demands of the subdivisions that keep popping up beyond the city limits.
Much of the committee’s discussion on Monday focused on city-parish services that cost more than the property taxes approved years ago to fund those services, meaning money must be pulled from other areas of the budget to fill the gap.
“The general fund is being eaten by all those subsidies,” committee member Sarah Walker said.
The Parks and Recreation Department, the police and fire departments, and the parish jail all have operating expenses that far exceed the property taxes residents pay to support those services.
Local leaders have long talked of the need to address those issues, and the City-Parish Council in 2012 discussed separate tax proposals for public safety and recreation but balked at bringing either proposal to voters.
City-Parish Councilman Jay Castille proposed a half-cent sales tax for public safety in early 2012 that would have taken the place of two existing fire and police property taxes.
The plan would have brought a net annual revenue increase of about $10 million — gaining $16 million a year from the sales tax while losing $6 million from the expiring property taxes, according to estimates from city-parish government.
The council did not pursue the proposal.
In November 2012, the City-Parish Council voted to put a parks and recreation tax increase on the ballot that would have raised the property tax from 1.92 mills to 7 mills.
But a few months later, the council reversed course and decided not to put the measure on the ballot, with some council members arguing that all city-parish needs should be considered as a whole before bringing any new tax proposal to voters.
The needs committee was formed in part to offer that big-picture look at budget issues.
Follow Richard Burgess on Twitter, @rbb100.