As the Lafayette City-Parish Council considers its final budget before disbanding next year, council members are hearing a familiar story when it comes finding money for jailhouse services.
Dedicated taxes for the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center are insufficient, the council was told, and courthouse revenues will have to make up the difference.
With the Courthouse Complex Fund dwindling to cover annual shortfalls at the jail, newly seated parish council members next year won’t have the luxury of punting the problem for much longer. Mayor-President Joel Robideaux’s proposal to use $2.4 million from the courthouse fund would reduce its reserves to about $5 million.
“Something has got to give,” Councilman Jay Castille said at a budget hearing on Monday. “Next year it’s going to zero out.”
Castille helped to lead a failed effort last year to get an additional $6.7 million for the jail through a new property tax. Robideaux opposed the measure, a position that was not forgotten Monday by council members who supported it.
“We were told ‘no problem, we have plenty of money moving forward,’” said Councilman Bruce Conque. “Here we are today, we don’t have plenty of money moving forward.”
Robideaux’s clashes with Sheriff Mark Garber over funding issues are complicating the issue. In years past, the Sheriff’s Office, which administers the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center, has paid salaries of certain employees who help keep the jail running on a day-to-day basis. But Garber, whose own tax proposal was defeated last year without Robideaux’s support, is shifting course.
Garber is asking for an additional $1.8 million on top of Robideaux’s budget proposal to pay for more than three dozen positions, including mental health professionals, food service workers and GED instructors.
The sheriff’s office warden of corrections, Paula Smith, cited the failure of Garber’s half-penny sales tax proposal in discussing the request for additional money.
“We have had to take a look at making ourselves more efficient and cutting salaries,” Smith said in a brief interview after the hearing.
Garber’s tax proposal, considered audacious by critics, would have yielded a 40-percent boost in his office’s annual revenue. The Sheriff’s Office typically breaks even with annual revenues of about $64 million.
Smith said she did not know what will happen if the council does not grant Garber’s request, which Castille moved for as an amendment to Robideaux’s budget proposal. Councilman Jared Bellard objected to the amendment. The council will vote on it and other amendments before passing a final budget.
The administrations of Robideaux and Garber have clashed over funding issues since they both took office in 2016, and Garber let it be known in April he intended to ask for the additional personnel money. Robideaux’s chief administrative officer, Lowell Duhon, questioned Garber’s timing.
“We had Sheriff Neustrom pay for this before. We had Sheriff Garber pay for it the first few years. Now this year we get hit with a $1.7 million increase,” Duhon said at the hearing. “Why this year? Why in the past has this never been an issue?”
Smith didn’t provide a reason for choosing this year over any other in response to Duhon’s question, avoiding direct criticism of the Robideaux administration.
“We feel that if we don’t keep pressing the issue and advising everyone that there is a need, that this is a mandate, it goes unanswered,” Smith said.