LAFAYETTE — Facing opposition during a local economic decline, the Lafayette Parish School Board voted to rescind a proposal that would have asked voters to approve two new property taxes.
The board’s unanimous decision Tuesday reverses the action it took Dec. 2 to place on the April 9 ballot an 11.5-mill, 30-year property tax to fund $380 million worth of school construction and facility needs and a 4.5-mill, 10-year property tax for maintenance, academic programs and technology upgrades.
Board members said the downturn in the local economy and the state’s looming budget crisis were among the reasons for changing course.
“The need for this is not going to go away because we repeal this resolution,” board member Justin Centanni said. “In the end, it’s designed to improve quality of classrooms and the overall quality of life in Lafayette Parish. Unfortunately, we’ve gotten bad news after bad news here from families in the oil field who are struggling. … Ultimately, I think the families in Lafayette deserve a little stability.”
Supporters of the taxes spoke at the meeting and asked board members what will happen to buildings that would have benefited from the tax revenues, such as the aging and overpopulated Lafayette High School.
“Teachers have been pressured heavily to perform at higher levels, and we still perform in 20th-century buildings,” Thetis Cusimano said. “Keep this burning before the public.”
Lafayette High is one of three schools in the district that would have been replaced had the tax passed. The tax also would have funded the second phases of a new high school in south Lafayette Parish and a new Katharine Drexel Elementary School.
“Our schools are falling apart, and we need to do something,” Ella Arsement told board members. “I can’t see the public not supporting that tax. We need to find a way to get those things taken care of.”
Had the tax gone before voters and been approved, a homeowner with a home valued at $230,000 would have paid about $248 more in property taxes each year.
Opponents said the taxes would be a significant burden on businesses that already are struggling.
Board member Britt Latiolais said his vote was based on feedback from constituents in District 5, though District 9 board member Jeremy Hidalgo countered that he believes the majority of residents in his district “knows what they’ll be missing out on if we don’t increase revenues.”
“I’ve never woken up … and said today is a great day to pay higher taxes, but we know what the condition of our schools is,” Hidalgo said.
Other board members said they hope the community will support the board in its effort to pass a tax at a later date, after the state’s finances are in better shape and the oil and gas industry has recovered from the drastic drop in oil prices.
“I hate to believe that no time is a good time,” board member Mary Morrison said. “We want to do what’s right.”
In other business Tuesday, the board chose Hub International as its consultant on selecting an employee health plan.
Ten firms submitted proposals, but the board heard from the three that scored the highest after a panel evaluation: Hub International; Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.; and McGriff, Seibels & Williams.
Board member Tehmi Chassion was absent.