LAFAYETTE — Lafayette Parish voters Saturday overwhelmingly approved a 1-cent sales tax that will be levied over eight months next year to pay for improvements at the Lafayette Regional Airport.
According to complete but unofficial returns, votes for the tax numbered 34,037, about 59.5 percent, to 23,267 votes against, 40.5 percent.
The tax will be collected from April 1 until Nov. 30 on goods and services except food and prescription drugs. The revenue, expected to be in the range of $35 million to $37 million, will be added to bond proceeds and airport grants to reach the $90 million needed for the project.
“I think it shows a lot of vision on the part of Lafayette Parish voters to step out of the box a little bit and see a project that I think is going to touch, one way or another, everyone in the parish,” Lafayette Airport Commission Chairman Matt Cruse said.
“It’s going to affect the entire region,” Cruse said. “You’re looking at a six-, seven-parish area it’s going to affect.”
Cruse said limiting the tax to eight months and defining specifically what the money would be used for was key to its passage.
After the Airport Commission gave its approval to ask for the tax election, Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel asked the City-Parish Council to put the measure on the ballot. In April, the council passed the measure 8-1 and decided to place it on the Dec. 6 ballot.
The past four months were busy ones for airport commissioners. Crisscrossing Lafayette Parish, and at times outside the parish, commissioners spoke to groups large and small that represented government, civic organizations, tourism agencies and economic development groups. They pitched the need for a bigger terminal with more boarding gates to service comfortably the commercial passenger population that will increase an estimated 40 percent in the next decade, from 471,333 in the past year to more than 653,000 by 2025.
In addition to expanding the terminal from three gates to five, with room and accommodations to later add two more gates, the project calls for more parking, a larger lobby inside the terminal, more room for passenger-screening and preboarding areas, food and beverage services for passengers who have been screened and are awaiting a flight, and better baggage claim facilities.
The tax proposal gathered support among government and business officials. On Tuesday, various economic development and tourism groups — from the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association to the Upper Lafayette Economic Development Foundation — urged voter passage.
“We have a lot to celebrate and can leverage this opportunity to build an even stronger Lafayette and Acadiana,” said Jason El Koubi, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce.
“We’re tremendously excited that a majority of voters agreed to make an important investment in our community’s future,” El Koubi said as election returns Saturday showed a landslide for the tax.
There was no organized group effort to dissuade voters and defeat the tax. Some commissioners reported meeting some who were opposed, but there were no large groups rallying to defeat the measure.
The City-Parish Council’s 8-1 vote in April put the tax on the ballot and the lone dissenter was William Theriot, a councilman who represents Youngsville and part of Broussard. In a November interview, Theriot said Lafayette Parish has more pressing needs such as better roads and drainage, than a new airport terminal.
Most voters Saturday disagreed with Theriot.