Lafayette Parish voters head to the polls Saturday to decide whether some of the tax money now collected for public health and mosquito control can also be used for the animal shelter and animal control services.
The proposal would not raise taxes but rather loosen the legal restrictions on how existing tax revenue can be spent.
The Lafayette animal shelter and related animal control operations cost city-parish government more than $1 million a year, but there is no dedicated tax to support animal control.
At the same time, existing property taxes for mosquito control and the public health unit generate millions of dollars more than needed, and the money sits in a savings account because the property tax revenue is legally dedicated to those services and cannot be used for anything else.
The proposed 10-year, 3.56-mill combined tax would bring in about $6.7 million a year, enough to fund existing expenses for mosquito control programs, the parish health unit and animal control, and still have about $2.3 million a year left over, should city-parish leaders opt to enhance any of those services, said City-Parish Chief Financial Officer Lorrie Toups.
Using dedicated funding from the 3.56-mill tax for animal control also would free up about $1.2 million now coming from other areas of the city-parish budget to pay for animal control services.
“It’s a way for us to get more money in the general fund without raising taxes,” said City-Parish President Joey Durel.
Toups said the accumulated savings built up in the mosquito control and public health accounts had grown to about $11 million by the end of the 2014 budget year.
If that tax proposal passes, some of that money could possibly be used for a new animal shelter, Durel said.
The City-Parish Council was split on the measure, voting 5-4 last year to put the tax proposal on the ballot.
Councilman William Theriot, who voted in opposition, said he is not against better animal control services but believes residents might rather have a lower tax bill if the existing millages are bringing in more money than needed.
“If we had all that extra money, we should give it back to the people,” he said.
Theriot said he might have considered supporting a rededication of the existing taxes if the money had gone to drainage projects.
Voters on Saturday also will decide whether to renew a parishwide 10-year, 4.17-mill property for road and bridge work.
The tax generates about $7.8 million in annual revenue.