With nine months left in his first term in office, Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux recounted in his annual report Thursday accomplishments over the past year, such as attracting Swiss helicopter manufacturer Kopter, three film production companies and a songwriters festival to the Lafayette area.

In his 2019 city-parish address, which he calls the Robideaux Report, the mayor-president also made important announcements regarding Lafayette Utilities System, construction of a new animal shelter and enhancement of parks and recreation facilities.

"When we're all on the same page, we can compete," Robideaux said.

When city and state officials, tourism and economic development officials cooperate and work together, he said, Lafayette can compete in attracting a variety of industries and technology firms.

Moody's praised Lafayette's efforts at diversifying its economy and sales tax receipts are on the rise, the mayor-president said.

Criticized for a lack of communication with the City-Parish Council and others in the community, Robideaux stressed the important role of "raw and honest" conversations in the community's success.

Lafayette needs to have a difficult conversation about the future of LUS, Robideaux said. The city-owned utility system has to evolve if it is to continue providing electricity to city residents, he said, but LUS does not at this time generate its own electricity.

The coal-fired electric generating plant LUS owns and CLECO operates won't be operating much longer he said.

If the city wants to generate its own electricity, are ratepayers willing to pay more to build a new plant, Robideaux asked.

"Our community needs to have this difficult conversation so that the best possible solution emerges," he said, "one that doesn't burden us with unmanageable debt but also continues the legacy of ownership and generation."

The future of LUS was in question in 2018 after it became public that Robideaux had signed a letter of intent with a private company proposing a 40-year contract to manage the city-owned utility system.

The company, NextGen Utilities System, an affiliate of Bernhard Capital Partners, withdrew its offer in November, the same day the City-Parish Council adopted a resolution saying it would not consider any private management agreements for LUS.

A charter amendment approved by voters Dec. 8 would require a vote of the public before LUS could be sold, leased or managed by a third party.

When Robideaux campaigned in 2015, one of his goals was to convert the animal shelter to a no-kill shelter and build a new animal shelter more conducive to adoptions. He put those construction plans on hold until Lafayette could reach or get close to no-kill status. That time has arrived, he said Thursday.

"I'm thrilled to announce tonight that beginning tomorrow, we're going to dust off those plans, look at best practices across the country and begin the process of building a world-class facility," Robideaux said.

CREATE, Lafayette's cultural economy initiative created by the Robideaux administration, was successful in 2018, Robideaux said, partnering with the Buddy Holly Educational Foundation on its first U.S. songwriting workshop, hosting a global music convention and building a community calendar with the tourism office.

"I don't know if that includes a sequel to 'The Christmas Contract,'" he joked., about a film shot in Lafayette Parish that aired last Christmas and in which Robideaux played himself. "I have not gotten a call."

The Culture, Recreation, Entertainment, Arts, Tourism and Economy initiative, Robideaux said, assisted in relocating to Lafayette three film production companies that are expected to shoot more than 12 films in the area.

In 2019, CREATE will focus on recreation.

"We are currently looking into enhancements at our parks and recreation facilities," he said. "Whether that means new experiences that attract national audiences or upgrades to existing facilities, the goal of CREATE is the same," invest tax dollars in projects that impact quality of life and have an identifiable return on investment.

Robideaux introduced CREATE in his 2017 annual report. Voters agreed to provide $500,000 toward the initiative during an election that diverted millions in tax dollars from mosquito and animal control and public health to drainage. The election followed the August 2016 floods.

Robideaux is seeking a second four-year term in the Oct. 12 election.


Follow Claire Taylor on Twitter, @ClaireTaylorACA