A citizens committee digging into the finances of city-parish government unveiled a draft list of recommendations Thursday, calling for local leaders to seek out efficiencies but also suggesting Lafayette leaders explore new taxes for drainage, recreation, roads and rural fire protection.
The City-Parish Council formed the Future Needs/Funding Sources Committee in February 2014, and the group has been meeting over the past year to craft recommendations, hearing from council members, city-parish staff and others on the financial woes of local government.
The recommendations outlined Thursday are subject to change.
Chairman Chad Hanks said he hopes the group will firm up the ideas in the coming weeks and report its findings to the council by the summer.
The committee focused on five key areas: public safety; drainage; roads and bridges; parks and recreation; and the maintenance and operation of the courthouse and jail.
The group has pointed out opportunities for saving money or bringing in more of it, such as increasing fines and improving the collection of those fines to help support the courthouse and jail. They also suggested developing a better system for prioritizing road, bridge and drainage projects, and selling the spoil dirt left over when work crews clean out ditches.
But much of the discussion at Thursday’s meeting was on the more politically sensitive proposals for new or increased taxes.
The committee’s draft recommendations call for special drainage districts that could levy new property taxes, with the revenue dedicated to projects only in the areas they cover.
The new revenue would address a hole in the budget linked to weak rural tax collections that can’t pay for the drainage needs outside the city of Lafayette.
“We are clogging up, and water is not moving through the parish anymore,” said Hanks, a local farmer.
For parks and recreation, the committee recommended increasing the recreation tax and collecting it parishwide.
The current recreation property tax is collected only within the city of Lafayette, so parks outside the city rely on subsidies from other areas of the budget.
But even the existing tax is not enough to support parks and recreation programs in the city.
“It’s woefully inadequate for the cost of this operation,” said committee member Jason El Koubi, president and CEO of the regional economic development group One Acadiana.
In a cost-savings proposal, the committee recommended that city-parish officials consider transferring control of the seven parks located in smaller municipalities of the parish to those municipalities if city-parish government cannot find enough dedicated tax revenue to maintain the parks.
On the issue of funding the courthouse and jail — both of which drain the budget because the property taxes passed for those facilities have not kept pace with expenses — the committee recommended possibly raising the property taxes if increased fines or improved collection of fines don’t bring in enough additional money.
The committee also recommended the consideration of new taxes to support rural fire protection.
There are no full-time fire departments serving rural areas of the parish, and volunteer departments have struggled to meet the growing need for fire protection as more subdivisions take shape beyond the city limits.
City-Parish Councilman Jay Castille, a former firefighter, said it is a critical need that must be addressed, but he also said it would be an expensive proposition to bring fire protection in rural areas up to modern standards.
“You need stations and trucks and personnel. It’s going to be a big-ticket item,” he said.
To address road and bridge needs, the committee recommended a temporary parishwide sales tax dedicated to specific, high-priority projects.
There were no tax proposals for the police department, but committee members said the hope is that the other proposed taxes could free up more money in the budget for public safety needs.
Any action of the committee’s recommendations will be in the hands of the City-Parish Council, and any proposal for new taxes would need the approval of voters.