Property owners in the city of Lafayette could end up paying more for fire protection for residents in unincorporated areas, whose voters rejected taxing themselves for fire protection in 2018.
City of Lafayette residents already pay a property tax for fire protection. Residents in unincorporated areas do not.
The Lafayette Parish Council on Tuesday is expected to consider calling for an election Oct. 9 asking voters across the parish to take part of a property tax currently paid for public health units, mosquito protection and animal control and rededicate it to fire protection parishwide.
In the past, Lafayette Fire Chief Robert Benoit said even municipal fire departments benefit from additional revenue for parishwide fire protection because all city fire departments respond to calls outside their municipal boundaries. At one time, Benoit said the city of Lafayette received $100,000 a year to cover unincorporated areas but not anymore because the parish government doesn't have enough money in its general fund.
If volunteer fire departments in unincorporated areas are able to hire fire crews and buy equipment, they could relieve city fire departments of some of the burden of covering those areas, Benoit said in the past.
Parish Councilman Kevin Naquin was on the City-Parish Council in 2018 and pushed for the creation of a special fire district for unincorporated parts of the parish. In December 2018, voters in the fire district rejected a proposed 10-mill property tax that would have generated more than $3.9 million a year for fire protection services, equipment and facilities.
The fire rating in unincorporated areas went up from 5 to 6 after the failed tax election and property insurance rate increases followed.
In November, voters approved a measure that has property owners across the parish, including those in the city of Lafayette, paying for fire protection in unincorporated areas.
That vote redistributed a 0.25-mill parishwide culture, recreation and tourism property tax, with 0.175 mills funding parish fire protection to the tune of about $550,000 a year and 0.75 funding parish roads and bridges.
Now voters may be asked to rededicate part of a 2.21-mill property tax to parish fire protection.
The 2.21-mill public health tax pays for public health units, mosquito control and animal control. Under the proposal, 1.98 mills would remain for public health purposes, while 0.23 mills would pay for fire protection in the parish. It could generate another $500,000 for parish fire protection, bringing the total above $1 million a year.
The public health tax already took a couple of hits. In March 2015, voters combined existing public health unit and mosquito control taxes into the public health tax and agreed that the tax should fund animal control, too.
In November 2017, more than a year after days of rainfall flooded hundreds of homes in the parish, voters agreed to use $9 million from the combined public health tax savings to improve drainage and redirected 1.10 mills annually to drainage; 0.25 mills to the culture, recreation and tourism effort; and leave 2.21 mills for public health.
The Parish Council at Tuesday's meeting also is expected to consider placing three parishwide property tax renewals on the Oct. 9 ballot.
They include the renewal of:
- A 1.71-mill property tax that generates about $7.76 million a year for Lafayette Regional Airport
- A 3.58-mill property tax that generates about $7.8 million a year for drainage. It includes a 0.24-mill increase due to a drop in property tax revenue through reappraisals.
- A 1.84-mill property tax to Lafayette Parish public libraries.
Prior to 2019, the Lafayette Parish public library system collected revenue from three parishwide property taxes and had a substantial savings that has since dwindled to about $7 million.
In April 2018, voters failed to renew a 1.61-million property tax that cost libraries about $3.6 million a year.
The City-Parish Council in September 2019 failed to roll the library millages forward, costing the library system $300,000 a year.
In October 2019, voters approved a proposal by former Lafayette Parish Mayor-President Joel Robideaux to use $10 million in library fund savings for drainage and roads.
Finally, when property values dropped in 2020 for the first time since the oil bust of the 1980s, the Parish Council, at the request of Lafayette Parish Mayor-President Josh Guillory, did not increase the library millages to collect the same amount of money as the prior year, costing libraries about $750,000 a year.
The public health millage also was not increased to make up for the lost revenue due to property values dropping in 2020.
The City Council, also on Tuesday, is expected to consider placing two city property tax renewals on the Oct. 9 ballot.
- A 3-mill property tax that generates about $4.6 million a year for police salaries and benefits
- A 2-mill property tax that generates about $3 million a year for fire department salaries and benefits.
The taxes don't expire until 2022 and 2023, so if they fail, officials have time to place them before voters for renewal before they expire.