Property owners in Lafayette Parish can expect to pay higher property taxes at the end of the year to compensate for a 6.6% drop in the taxable value of property, largely caused by commercial property losses.
The Lafayette Parish Council voted 3-1 Tuesday to increase property tax millages above what voters approved to bring in the same amount of revenue as 2019, which is allowed by law when values drop. Councilman Josh Carlson voted against the measure and Councilman John Guilbeau was absent.
Even though property values in the city of Lafayette fell 4.4%, the City Council on Tuesday voted not to increase the millages.
This year is the first time since the oil bust of the 1980s that property values in Lafayette dropped, Assessor Conrad Comeaux said.
A provision was written into the state constitution to help local governments in situations like this, Comeaux said, when the economy falters and property assessments drop. In the 1980s oil bust, he said, assessments fell 26% one year and another 20% a few years later, forcing local officials to lay off government workers.
The coronavirus pandemic this year hurt industries, Comeaux said. The oil and gas industry's problems have been building for years, with companies removing assets and inventories from the parish, he said.
On top of that, retail stores drastically reduced their inventory, which is taxed. Macy's and J.C. Penney both closed the top floors in Acadiana Mall, a big reduction in taxable inventory, Comeaux said.
The parish has only a $50,000 general fund balance compared with the city's $33 million fund balance, Parish Council Chairman Kevin Naquin said. The parish, he said, can't afford to lose out on $3.9 million in tax revenue by not increasing the millages.
The property tax bill for the owner of a $275,000 home in unincorporated Lafayette parish would go up by less than $40 a year with the parish millage increase. Other taxing bodies in the parish, including the School Board, have the option of increasing their millages as well, but may choose not to as did the City Council.
Naquin and other council members weren't anxious to increase the millages. Mayor-President Josh Guillory asked the council to defer action for two weeks so he could research to determine if other options are available. But Naquin said there are no other options with only a $50,000 fund balance.
He and Comeaux also cautioned that, if Guillory vetoes the increase and the council doesn't have the votes to override the veto, all parish millages would be set at zero, a $60 million loss for the parish. The council then would have to introduce an ordinance to resume the millages, which could delay the budget process and collection of property taxes.
Guillory and Carlson objected to the concept of increasing taxes without letting residents vote on it, but Naquin and Comeaux said March would be the earliest a measure could be put on the ballot.
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