LUS Fiber plans for the first time to offer its high-speed fiber optic Internet service beyond the city limits of Lafayette and might one day look at offering it outside the parish.
City-Parish President Joey Durel made the announcement Wednesday at his annual State of the Parish speech, laying out the rough outlines for growing a city-owned telecommunications service that has been available only to city residents since it launched in 2009.
“As I have traveled this parish, one of the most common things I am asked is, ‘When will we get fiber?’ That answer depended in large part on making fiber successful in Lafayette. We’re there,” Durel told the crowd that filled the Cajundome Convention Center.
He also floated the possibility that the fiber optic service may one day be offered outside the parish.
There is no firm timeline for the expansion of LUS Fiber, which offers Internet, telephone and television services.
Durel said the service will be offered only to municipalities that make agreements with Lafayette on the boundaries of future annexations.
Durel has long sought such agreements to ease ongoing battles over the annexation of rural areas, particularly in southern Lafayette Parish, but he has little luck in getting the leaders of other municipalities to the table.
Youngsville is an exception, and Durel said that city will likely be first on the list for fiber.
Durel said the initial rollout would be for business customers.
LUS Director Terry Huval said costs for expansion would have to be paid by the city seeking LUS Fiber, and no rough estimates have been calculated for extending fiber lines.
“The key is how you pay for that,” he said.
But Huval said expenses would be controlled somewhat because the big-ticket components of the LUS Fiber system have already been built.
“Whether we have 10,000 customers or 100,000 customers, our costs are relatively the same,” he said.
Durel is serving the fourth year of his third and final term in office, and he used his last State of the Parish address as an opportunity to highlight a handful of major projects he hopes to move down the field before year’s end.
Among the priorities is winning the council over on a plan to redevelop the old federal courthouse downtown — mostly empty for more than decade — into a mixed-used residential and commercial development.
The Downtown Development Authority views the redevelopment as a priority.
“There is nothing we can do to take downtown to another level better than getting people to live there,” Durel said. “We have got to turn the old federal courthouse into something great for downtown.”
Durel talked of plans to build another bridge across the Vermilion River by extending South City Parkway in south Lafayette.
City-parish government has set aside money to begin buying right-of-way for the road.
“We have the beginnings of another bridge across the river that could be done within five years, not 50,” Durel said.
He also urged voters to approve a proposal on the ballot next month that could pump more money into city-parish government’s Animal Control Center.
The tax proposal would not raise taxes but rather combine existing property taxes for the public health unit and mosquito control into a single property tax and add a provision that the funds also could be used for animal control.
The existing property taxes for mosquito control and public health 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.
“If it passes, animal control will have a dedicated funding source, parishwide,” Durel said. “And, eventually, a needed state-of-the art animal shelter can be built, without taking money away from roads, bridges, drainage or other parish needs.”
Returning to an issue he raised in his State of the Parish address last year and the year before, Durel made a plea to tweak the current form of consolidated government.
The once-separate governments of Lafayette Parish and the city of Lafayette merged in 1996, but critics say the city of Lafayette’s autonomy has suffered in that marriage because council members who represent large rural constituencies have too much of a say on city issues, such as the budgets and policies of the Police Department, the Fire Department and the city-owned utility system.
“Fixing consolidation should be the single biggest campaign issue this year,” Durel said.
The idea of a tweaked form of consolidated government has gained little traction, and voters in 2011 rejected a more drastic measure to undo consolidation and return to two separate governments.