Twenty-seven years ago, in March 1992, voters in the city of Lafayette elected their last five-person city council.

Eight months later, while parish voters were split on the issue, city voters overwhelmingly agreed to consolidate Lafayette’s city and parish governments and Lafayette Consolidated Government was born. When LCG was implemented in 1996, Lafayette, the largest city in the parish, became the only municipality without its own mayor and city council.

On Oct. 12, Lafayette voters once again will cast ballots electing their own five-person city council for the first time in 27 years.

The five people who take office in January as the new Lafayette City Council face a different situation than the previous city council. The new council still will operate under the Home Rule Charter approved in November 1992 that consolidated the city and parish governments.

They’ll have to navigate an uncertain budget process in conjunction with a new five-person Parish Council and share a new mayor-president with the Parish Council. 

In December 2018, voters approved the first major revision to the Home Rule Charter adopted in 1992. The biggest change, of course, is that the nine-person City-Parish Council will be replaced in January with a five-person City Council and a five-person Parish Council.

Creating a council solely to represent city residents gives the city autonomy once again over services such as Lafayette Utilities System and the city fire and police departments.

Under the City-Parish Council, only District 6 contains all residents of the city of Lafayette, allowing council members who represent districts with a mix of city and parish residents – some representing more residents outside the city than inside the city -- as much power in deciding city-only matters such as whether city police and firefighters should get pay raises, for instance, as the District 6 councilman.

That changes in January when the councils are split.

When the new city council takes office in January, LUS also will be governed only by city council members. The city council will vote on whether to approve the person selected by the mayor-president as LUS director, set utility rates and incur debt. The parish council will have no say in those decisions.

The original Home Rule Charter adopted in 1992 established that LUS was to be governed by the Lafayette Public Utilities Authority, consisting of City-Parish Council members whose districts are at least 60 percent city of Lafayette residents.

The setup has been less than ideal because some city residents that are in districts with fewer than 60 percent city residents are not represented on the LPUA. As a result, a bond attorney years ago advised that the entire council also should vote on LUS matters, in addition to the LPUA. While that protects LCG from lawsuits by city residents not represented on the LPUA, it’s contradictory to the Home Rule Charter and gives authority over a city-owned utility system to council members representing few city residents, essentially allowing non-city residents a voice in LUS matters.

A transition committee has been meeting to sort out some of the potential problems not addressed in the revised Home Rule Charter and some of the problems the councils and mayor-president might encounter moving forward. One issue raising concern is passage of the budget.

First, while presented as a single document, there are actually several budgets adopted every year, including a city budget, a parish budget and an LUS budget.

The revised Home Rule Charter says the mayor-president will continue to prepare a proposed budget and submit it to both councils. The council clerk, who is to be appointed by both councils, will call for a joint public hearing of the councils. The proposed budget which can be passed today with approval from five of the nine City-Parish Council members, next year will require four of the five City Council and Parish Council members to agree on passage.

And there's the rub.

Will the parish council be able to make changes to the city budget? To the LUS budget? Will one council hold the budgets "hostage" to force changes?

The revised charter says if the councils fail to adopt a budget by the end of the fiscal year Oct. 31, the budget for the current fiscal year remains in effect for up to six months into the next fiscal year with expenditures limited to not more than 50 percent of the amount appropriated for expenditures for the current fiscal year.

Beyond that, the charter doesn't address how the councils are supposed to end a budget stalemate.

Early voting for the Oct. 12 council election is from 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Sept. 28 through Oct. 5, except Sunday, Sept. 29. In Lafayette Parish, the only early voting site is at the Registrar of Voter Office, 1010 Lafayette St., in downtown Lafayette.

 

Email Claire Taylor at ctaylor@theadvocate.com.