Lafayette voters will be making a decision on Nov. 6 whether to approve two new property taxes to help fund the parish courthouse and jail.
Lafayette City-Parish Council agreed Tuesday to put on the ballot two 10-year tax proposals estimated to raise $11.3 million annually.
A third tax proposal to help pay for the District Attorney’s Office was pulled from the agenda. District Attorney Keith Stutes said later that he was surprised the resolution was pulled, and did not know the reason.
“Unfortunately, I was not given any forewarning that the action they would take would be to pull it. So I really have no idea why," Stutes said. "I’m only going to assume that what they’ve done, they’ve done in good faith.”
The council chairman, Kevin Naquin, said during the meeting that “other opportunities” had been identified to help pay for the District Attorney’s Office. He did not elaborate.
The proposed 2.94-mill property tax for the jail would generate an estimated $6.7 million annually, and the proposed 2-mill tax for the courthouse would amount to about $4.6 million annually. Proceeds from a 2-mill tax that had been proposed for the District Attorney’s Office would have exceeded the parish’s budget for the office by about $2 million.
If voters approve the two taxes headed to the ballot, the new revenue wouldn’t be available until the fiscal year that begins in November 2019. That means painful cuts are likely next year, no matter what happens on the next ballot.
Naquin, along with councilmen Jay Castille, Kenneth Boudreaux and Bruce Conque sponsored the proposals to relieve pressure on the parish’s depleted general fund. Councilman Pat Lewis voted with them to pass the resolutions 5-4. Council members William Theriot, Liz Hebert, Nanette Cook and Jared Bellard voted no.
Naquin said he’d been personally attacked on social media for supporting the proposals, even though he was merely advocating allowing voters to decide whether to accept the new property taxes.
“How am I being a good representative of this community if I’m denying you the right to vote?” Naquin said. “Both sides should be given an option.”
The parish must pay for the jail, courthouse and District Attorney’s Office under state law, meaning these priorities take precedence over public works, fire protection and other essential services.
Property owners parishwide already pay a property tax for the combined benefit of the jail and courthouse, as well as one strictly for the jail. But the jail consumes most of the $9 million annual revenue from both taxes, leaving little for the courthouse. Any shortfalls must be covered by the general fund.
Addressing the council, local businesswoman and radio personality Carol Ross said she would have preferred the parish consider a quarter-cent sales tax, one that exempts food and drugs, as opposed to a property tax. Ross said she objected to more property taxes because they tend to increase in value over time, even though council members can roll back millage rates to keep the annual proceeds steady.
“That’s more money taken out of the economy, which can’t very well stand it,” Ross said.
The parish’s sales tax-reliant general fund has been declining for years, the combined result of a hard-hit local oil economy and municipal annexations of commercial property. With four straight years of spending beyond incoming revenue, the general fund has essentially vanished.
For the current fiscal year, the parish general fund was budgeted to receive $12.7 million in revenue, with $13.7 million in expenses. But current-year deficit could be even worse than expected, as year-over-year sales tax revenues have dipped 23.3 percent in the first quarter, according to city-parish administration figures.