LAFAYETTE — Lafayette Airport Commission members promoting a Dec. 6 tax election have heard time and again from voters that more terminal gates and parking are needed at Lafayette Regional Airport.
What some are having a hard time believing is the temporary life of the proposed 1-cent sales tax that would be levied from April 1 to Nov. 30, 2015, to help pay for the improvements.
“Most of the people like the concept, if they believe the eight-month sunset is true,” said Commissioner Tim Skinner, who conceded that “temporary tax” is a phrase that deserves close scrutiny.
“Eight months, and that’s it,” Skinner promised.
Commissioners and representatives from the public relations firm Sides & Associates have crisscrossed Lafayette Parish in recent months promoting the tax’s benefits as they ask voters to support the measure, which would bring in $35 million to $37 million.
The proceeds would constitute part of $90 million needed to build a new terminal that would have five boarding gates instead of the current three. The new terminal’s design would allow two more gates to be added in the future. The project also would increase parking.
To get the full $90 million needed, the airport would borrow $30 million or more through bond sales, then rely on state and federal matching grants to fund the balance.
The plan to fund the terminal, pushed by the Airport Commission, was proposed publicly by Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel in a State of the Parish speech in February. The measure to bring the tax to voters needed the approval of the City-Parish Council, which OK’d it in an 8-1 vote in the spring.
The lone nay vote came from District 6’s William Theriot.
Theriot, who represents residents in Youngsville and south Broussard, said last week that most of his constituents do not believe new airport construction projects should be a priority. He said Lafayette Parish sorely needs better roads and adequate drainage, especially in Youngsville and Broussard.
At a current sales tax rate of 9½ percent, Youngsville’s inhabitants are taxed enough, Theriot said.
A 1-cent additional charge could affect businesses planning to spend tens of millions of dollars on projects. “They’re very concerned about 10½ percent,” Theriot said.
Theriot questioned why the airport, which receives dedicated tax proceeds from parish property owners that add up to millions of dollars a year, can’t fund expansion with current revenues. “The people are paying a millage to the airport right now,” he said.
Airport Commissioner Paul Guilbeau has accompanied Sides & Associates in an across-the-parish campaign to pass the tax. Guilbeau said he’s met pockets of resistance, especially in Youngsville, but no organized effort to defeat the measure.
Guilbeau said he heard there was some tea party opposition but he hasn’t been able “to find out where the tea party is and where their representatives” are located.
Airport commissioners and Sides & Associates representatives have put on 35 presentations to civic organizations and local governments since the tax plan was unveiled. The reasons cited in favor of the tax include:
The Lafayette Regional Airport boards more than 471,000 a passengers a year through three boarding gates now, a number that is expected to push past 650,000 by 2025, far more than at more modern airports in Lake Charles and Alexandria.
The expansion would provide more long-term parking slots for an airport where the lot is mostly full.
Job-producing oil and gas firms in Acadiana have become major users of the airport.
Larry Sides, of Sides & Associates, said the broadcast and print ad campaign will kick off this week and really increase after Thanksgiving in the week leading to Dec. 6.
“That’s going to be when the real push begins,” Sides said.