Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory on Monday announced a veto to block property tax increases approved by the Lafayette Parish Council.
The parish council voted Sept. 1 to increase property tax rates by 7.1% in response to declines in property values this year, primarily commercial property values, because of the COVID-19 pandemic business closures and declines in the oilfield industry.
According to state law, because of the anticipated reduction in revenue, the parish council may raise its tax rates to bring in the same amount of revenue as the prior year without sending them to a vote of the public.
Guillory has been a vocal opponent of raising taxes, especially without a public vote. In a statement announcing the veto, he said: "While property values in Lafayette Parish have dropped since the last reassessment, our first step should be for government to focus upon the services that are essential to its mission and prioritize, rather than to automatically impose greater property taxes on our citizens."
Although he vetoed an ordinance authorizing increases in all parish property taxes, Guillory said in his statement he specifically is opposed to increasing two library taxes, a combined health unit tax and a culture economy tax.
The library already has taken a financial hit. In April 2018, voters did not renew one of three property taxes that funded the public library system. The 1.61-mill tax generated more than $3.6 million a year for maintenance, operations and improvements of parish libraries.
The combined health unit tax which funds the public health unit, mosquito control and animal control also lost funding. In November 2017, after devastating floods in 2016, voters agreed to transfer $9 million of the fund's $10 million savings to drainage and stripped 1.1 mills from the 3.56-mill public health unit tax and dedicated it to drainage.
Another .25 mills of the public health tax was redirected to the culture economy (CREATE) fund. Guillory defunded the CREATE program and is asking voters in November to rededicate the tax to fire protection for unincorporated areas of the parish, even though voters in unincorporated areas rejected a proposed tax on themselves in 2019 for fire protection, and to roads and bridges. The tax generates about $500,000 a year.
In order to override the veto, which passed 3-1, the parish council will need four votes. Chairman Kevin Naquin and Councilmen Brian Tabor and A.B. Rubin voted for the tax increase. Josh Carlson voted against it. Councilman John Guilbeau, who often votes in line with Guillory, was absent.
Comeaux said at the Sept. 1 meeting if Guillory vetoed the ordinance, all of the parish property taxes will reset to zero. If the council overrides the veto, the taxes will be set at the higher amount.
If the council fails to override the veto, Comeaux said, the millages would remain at zero, forcing the council to introduce a new ordinance and wait two weeks to set millages at the lower amount. That, he said, could delay tax bills and the collection of taxes for governing bodies in January. If agencies run short of money, they may need to secure revenue anticipation bonds, which would cost taxpayers more in interest, Comeaux said.
This was Guillory's third veto in as many days.
He issued a similar veto Friday that affected the Lafayette Regional Airport millage, which would have meant a $2.44 increase in property taxes on the median valued home in the parish.
He also vetoed an ordinance that would allow the city council to hire its own attorney.
Lafayette Parish Tax Assessor Conrad Comeaux told KATC he is concerned that if the parish doesn't bring in more revenue, services could suffer.
The parish tax increase would have paid for roads, bridges, drainage, and the courthouse complex among other items.
"With parish government, it's already strapped for money and this may just force additional cuts. I don't know where all this is going, but it'll be interesting to watch,” Comeaux told KATC.
At a special meeting Thursday, the parish council may vote to override Guillory's veto. Instead of one ordinance containing all the millages, the agenda contains separate introductory ordinances for each of the parish taxes, indicating the council may vote to reject increases in some of the taxes as proposed by the mayor-president.