Lafayette Parish Mayor-President Josh Guillory announced late Friday afternoon he was laying off 101 employees effective June 5, the result of monetary shortfalls caused in part by business closures mandated by the governor to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
In addition to the layoffs, he canceled discretionary contracts and budgetary line items and eliminated dozens of vacant positions.
"These are the first steps," Guillory said in a recorded statement, "and there will likely be more."
Guillory did not disclose how much money Lafayette Consolidated Government will save by laying off the 23 full-time and 78 part-time employees. All are employed with the Acadiana Nature Station, the Lafayette Science Museum, three senior centers and the Heymann Center for Performing Arts. A few employees will remain at those facilities, which are either closed or operating at 25% capacity per the governor's COVID-19 response plan.
In the past, Guillory has said in preparing budgets he would first fund what he considers essential government functions such as drainage, roads and police and fire protection. He has indicated he does not consider arts and cultural activities to be essential government services.
The layoffs, he said, are among the “decisive steps we are taking to right-size and focus on our shared priorities in the operations of Lafayette Consolidated Government.”
The decision followed weeks of meetings and discussions with department heads, human resources and civil service representatives, Guillory said.
The mayor-president made no mention of impending layoffs at Tuesday’s City and Parish Council meetings. City Council Chairman Pat Lewis said Friday evening he received a heads-up from Guillory on Friday. The council was not involved in the discussions or decision-making, he said.
But Lewis said he stands by the decision because Guillory was elected to run the daily operations of LCG.
The layoffs, he said, are because of the pandemic.
"It's no one's fault," Lewis added.
Guillory said he'll revisit the financial issues leading to the layoffs this summer when preparing the 2020-21 budget and in consultation with the councils. If the financial situation changes, he said, or if LCG gets money from federal or state sources, those positions may be reinstated. The current fiscal year ends Oct. 31.
Meanwhile, his administration is working with leaders of those facilities to find outside funding for maintenance, operations and services, Guillory said. Options that may be considered are selling the naming rights to facilities, sponsorships, public-private partnerships, grants and crowdsourcing.
"At this time we simply don’t know what the next six months will hold," Guillory said. "We don’t know what the viability of mass entertainment facilities and events will be.”
Pam Deville, director of the Cajundome, told the councils and Guillory on Tuesday if concerts and other events don't return to the arena and convention center this fall, she may have to turn the building over to its owner, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The city of Lafayette provides a $325,000 annual subsidy to the Cajundome, but most of its revenue is self-generated.
The city and parish weren't in the best financial condition even before the pandemic, but the shutdown of businesses for two months certainly exacerbated the problem.
Sales tax revenue in the city of Lafayette were down about $1 million in March alone, Chief Financial Officer Lorrie Toups said recently. The governor issued his stay-at-home order and business closures in mid-March.
Louisiana and Acadiana in particular suffered another hit when oil prices plunged below zero dollars per barrel, costing jobs in the oilfield. More than 32,000 Lafayette Parish residents filed for unemployment between mid-March and mid-May.
In mid-April, the city and parish council authorized administration to seek approval from the state bond commission to issue up to $40 million in revenue bonds in response to the plummeting tax receipts, and to refinance millions in outstanding debt to save money by reducing the interest LCG is paying.
At the time, officials were forecasting a 35% decrease in sales tax revenue with an expected $10 million reduction in money going into the city general fund.