It appears the Lafayette City-Parish Council has come to terms with the fact the majority of its members support local government setting aside funds for nonprofit groups.
The funding, which has ranged from about $500,000 to $700,000, has been the topic of an annual debate for the past several years.
Opponents don’t dispute the value of arts organizations, domestic violence shelters, health-care services or other groups that receive financial help from city-parish government, but they argue government money should not be used for nonprofit groups that work beyond the normal scope of government.
Supporters counter that the nonprofit groups serve a vital role in the community and are worthy of government help.
The debate is not about the merits of any particular group but rather a dispute over the role of government, and that dispute has surfaced like clockwork each year when the council votes on the next year’s annual budget.
For the past four years, the issue has played out like a well-worn movie scene.
Councilman William Theriot or Councilman Jared Bellard will propose stripping nonprofit funding from the budget, and representatives from nonprofit groups will beseech the council to maintain the funding, speaking of the litany of community needs that might go unmet.
The council members will debate the merits of the issue — sometimes for hours — before ultimately voting to keep the nonprofit dollars in the budget.
Perhaps as an acknowledgment that everyone seems to know how the movie will end, the council this year went though the motions but dispensed with serious discussion of the issue.
Theriot proposed the cut as usual this year, seeking to strip $673,000 in funding for social service agencies and nonprofit groups, including money for Festival International and the Acadiana Center for the Arts.
When the nonprofit cut came up for a vote Tuesday when the council adopted the $134 million operating budget for next year, Theriot did not try to sway his fellow council members.
The other eight council members were equally silent on the issue.
The council chamber was filled with representatives from area nonprofits prepared to make their cases, but the council heard brief statements from only two of them before Councilman Don Bertrand proposed to “call for the question,” a procedural move that ends all discussion in favor of an immediate vote.
The council — possibly not wishing to needlessly drag out the debate — voted unanimously to wrap it up and then voted 7-2 to shoot down the proposed cut, which was supported only by Theriot and Bellard.
Voting to maintain the funding were Bertrand and council members Kenneth Boudreaux, Jay Castille, Sam Dore, Mary Morrison, Keith Patin and Brandon Shelvin.
So ended the annual debate on nonprofit funding.
For the time being, it appears that the money for nonprofits will remain, though council elections are this fall, and only two of the current members are walking back into office without opposition: Castille and Boudreaux.
Depending on the outcome of the election, voters may see a new twist on the annual debate that has lingered for at least two decades.
The last time there seemed a real possibility that some of the nonprofit funding might get cut was in 2005, when City-Parish President Joey Durel proposed removing funding for social service agencies from the budget.
He reversed course after Hurricane Katrina, reasoning that hurricane relief efforts might sap donations that would have normally gone to local charities, and the money has remained in the budget ever since.
Durel and other council members have, in the past, discussed the possibility of gradually phasing out funding for nonprofits, but there was no mention of that this year.
Richard Burgess is the bureau chief of The Advocate’s Acadiana Bureau in Lafayette. He can be reached at rburgess @theadvocate.com or by calling (337) 234-0174.