Some leaders in the Black community are considering opposing the renewal of a property tax for the Lafayette Parish public library system unless the library board commits to building a regional library in the underserved northeastern part of the city.

A 1.84-mill parish-wide property tax renewal is on the Nov. 13 ballot. It generates about $4 million a year for operation and construction. Without its renewal, Library Director Danny Gillane warned, libraries will be shut down.

Some residents and leaders in northeast Lafayette, who as a group generally support tax renewals and new taxes, are considering asking residents to vote down the renewal unless the Library Board of Control publicly commits to building a new library in that area. 

The library system budget contains $8 million allocated for construction from an initiative Kenneth Boudreaux spearheaded when he was on the former City-Parish Council. Library leaders, however, say they don't have enough money to staff and operate a new library without making cuts elsewhere.

Boudreaux, during his Sept. 19 KTMG radio show, said the library system has the ability to adjust operations at other libraries to free money to staff and operate a northeast library.

"Why are you putting that on my back?" he asked.  "They never tell the other people what they can’t do. But they tell us 'we can’t afford to operate it.'"

Northeast Lafayette library still possible with tax renewal, changes at existing libraries

Gillane, at an Aug. 16 meeting, said he is looking at various scenarios for cutting hours of operation at existing libraries to free up money to operate a northeast regional library but doesn't have a solid plan to present to the board.

Schools in that socio-economically challenged area of the city are failing, yet students lack access to a regional library. The only library east of Evangeline Thruway in northeast Lafayette is in the Martin Luther King Center in a room one official called a closet, Boudreaux said.

The area, where many are without cars, is geographically cut off from four new regional libraries and the downtown library by Evangeline Thruway.

That area, especially the 70501 area code, is the most in-need area in Lafayette Parish, Tina Shelvin-Bingham said on Boudreaux's radio show.

"It's time we start making intentional investment there," she said.

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One Hundred Black Men of Greater Lafayette is hosting an informational Zoom meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday about the tax renewal and northeast library. Member Alton Trahan said the membership will meet afterward and consider taking a formal position on the tax renewal.

Trahan, who declined to comment Monday for this story, during an appearance on Boudreaux's radio show, blamed those who appointed library board members and the board members themselves, saying those individuals came with pre-conceived positions and developed them into policies and a plan of action.

“Their plan of action is not to support the northeast library because they have refused to put it on the agenda to discuss," Trahan said.

Several residents at a Sept. 21 Library Board of Control meeting asked the board to support a northeast library. The board wasn't able to act at that meeting because the item was not on the agenda.

Library Board Chairman Doug Palombo said he was asked to put the northeast library on the agenda but declined because the board had discussed it at length during the previous meeting and he did not want to repeat a lengthy discussion out of respect for board members' time because they are unpaid volunteers.

After serving in the military, Nureaka Ross, political action chairperson for the Lafayette NAACP, said she returned home to the northside of Lafayette to find things hadn't changed much, at least not for the better, while the southside is thriving.

"I believe knowledge is power," she said. "Kids on the northside deserve the same access as kids on the southside."

Lafayette Attorney R.J. Fonseca, who is on the board of the Holy Rosary Institute Development Board, said land is available at the former Catholic school for African American children fronting Louisiana Avenue. The school was closed by the Diocese in 1993 and fell into disrepair. Efforts are underway to repair and restore the buildings.

Establishment of a library in northeast Lafayette received verbal support Sept. 21 from library board member Robert Judge who said the entire parish has a stake in the matter. 

If it requires shutting down and selling the South Regional Library in order to build a northeast regional library so children who are landlocked by the interstate have access to a library, Judge said, "I'm on board with that."

If the 1.84-mill property tax is not renewed in November, the library board can place it on a 2022 ballot. If it fails again, the tax will no longer be collected, leaving the library system with a single 2.91-mill property tax that generates $6-7 million a year, along with a small savings.

The library system lost more than $3 million in yearly revenue when voters in 2018 did not renew a 1.61-mill tax for operation and maintenance and voted to transfer $10 million in library fund balance to other city-parish expenses, including drainage.


Email Claire Taylor at ctaylor@theadvocate.com.