A citizens committee tasked with finding solutions for Lafayette city-parish government’s financial woes has recommended a series of new and increased taxes for a list of neglected needs committee members say will not be met without more money.
The Future Needs/Funding Sources Committee presented its recommendations to the City-Parish Council on Tuesday — a suite of proposals that emerged from 20 months of meetings with city-parish staff, elected officials, representatives from the local criminal justice system and others.
“The future of our community relies on us understanding the challenges we have ahead,” said committee chairman Chad Hanks.
The committee identified five critical needs: drainage, parks and recreation, roads and bridges, police and fire protection, and the parish courthouse and jail.
Most of the recommendations for funding those needs call for higher taxes. Any new or increased taxes would need voter approval.
Hanks said the five-member committee found few opportunities for streamlining and that city-parish government already is making do with less tax revenue than communities of similar size.
Among the recommendations:
Establish three to five special drainage districts in the parish where an additional property tax could be levied to support specific projects in those districts.
Increase the existing property tax for parks and recreation and expand the tax parishwide. The parks and recreation tax is collected only within the city limits of Lafayette, and revenue from the tax covers less than half of the parks and recreation budget. Parish general fund money is used to subsidize parks and recreation outside the city.
Propose a temporary, parishwide sales tax dedicated to high-priority road and bridge projects.
Use general fund dollars freed up by the additional tax revenue in other areas to better fund police and fire protection. Consider new dedicated taxes for fire protection in rural areas now served by volunteer departments experiencing a decline in volunteer participation.
Increase fines and/or improve collection efforts of existing fines in the local court system, which receives funds from city-parish government. Consider higher property taxes to support the court system, courthouse and jail if not enough money is found through efficiencies. Consider a temporary tax for any new court-related facilities.
The recommendations received mixed, though generally favorable, reviews from the council, which would need to approve putting any tax measure on the ballot.
“Nobody likes the tax word. I don’t like it. I pay enough of it, but I understand the needs,” said council Chairman Jay Castille.
Castille and Councilman Kevin Naquin, who formed the citizens committee in 2014, both said they plan to push the recommendations forward.
“It’s tough to tell the public that there is not enough revenue and you need taxes. Nobody wants to hear that,” Naquin said. “It’s at a point that we have to do something.”
Councilman William Theriot was wary, arguing the council should first consider streamlining the parish budget and asking voters to rededicate existing taxes that he said have surpluses, such as the taxes for mosquito control and the parish library system.
Money from those taxes could not be used for any other purpose unless voters gave their OK, and it was unclear late Tuesday what the actual surpluses were or whether that money might already have a planned use.
“That’s something that I want to exhaust first before we go the other route,” Theriot said.
Theriot said he could identify roughly $1 million in cuts on the “parish” side of the city-parish budget, the weakest part of the budget that draws much of its revenue from unincorporated areas of the parish.
A $1 million cut would cover only half of the $2 million decline in sales tax collections this year in unincorporated areas of the parish.
Hanks said any reasonable solutions should be considered, but he cautioned council members not to ignore what he sees as an impending crisis. “I don’t care how we find the solutions, but we need to find the solutions,” Hanks said. “If we continue on the road we are on, we will be closing roads and bridges.”