At a summit Wednesday to address a looming financial crisis in Lafayette Parish government, the following suggestions were offered by elected officials and board representatives:
- Ask voters for new property taxes (courts, district attorney operations, parish wide parks and recreation)
- Increase existing property taxes
- Split the courthouse and jail taxes
- Increase the general alimony tax that does not require voter approval
- Annex all unincorporated areas
- Amend the Home Rule Charter that established Lafayette Consolidated Government
- Allow casinos in the parish
- Eliminate anything not a necessity, such as parks and recreation
- Scrutinize state corporate tax incentives that reduce local revenue
- Enact a parish wide growth management plan to limit annexations that strip the parish of taxes
Even though moderator and Lafayette City-Parish Councilman Jay Castille insisted a parish finance summit Wednesday wasn’t about raising taxes, it seemed at the end of the three-hour session to be the likeliest solution to a looming budget crisis.
While most of the elected officials and commissioners attending the summit tiptoed around it, District Attorney Keith Stutes said he would commit “political suicide” by urging the council to ask voters for more property taxes to fund courts and the DA’s office.
At the summit, representatives of municipalities and taxing bodies in Lafayette Parish heard how critical the financial situation is and offered suggestions for addressing the problem.
As municipalities annex businesses from unincorporated areas, Lafayette Parish loses sales tax revenue for the general fund, which for years has been used to supplement revenue shortfalls elsewhere in the parish budget, Councilman Bruce Conque said.
revenue shortfalls elsewhere in the parish budget, Councilman Bruce Conque said.
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Even though parish officials budgeted conservatively, Conque said, the small parish general fund balance expected when the fiscal year ends Oct. 31 is already gone, so the savings won’t be there to cover budget shortfalls elsewhere.
Property taxes also are inadequate, Conque said. Many have not increased since they first were approved by voters decades ago.
Lafayette Parish is 50th out of 64 Louisiana parishes in the amount of property taxes it assesses.
“A millage (property tax) has to be on the table,” Carencro’s city manager Donald Chauvin said.
But there’s the issue of trust. Several elected officials noted some residents don’t trust government, don’t believe the budget has been sufficiently cut and believe they pay enough taxes.
A year ago, voters soundly rejected a new public school tax and defeated parish tax renewals that were on the same ballot. Renewals usually pass easily. The parish taxes were renewed later in the year when placed on a ballot without the school tax. Voters go to the polls April 28 to renew two city of Lafayette taxes and two parish wide taxes, for public libraries and juvenile detention.
Steve Oats, a resident and attorney, said he doesn’t want to pay more taxes, but realizes it’s a necessity. Talking about charter changes and budget cuts, he said, “feels like moving chairs around on the deck of the Titanic.”
“We’re going to have to raise ad valorem (property) taxes,” he said.
To get taxes passed will take a united front by all elected officials in the parish, each convincing his or her constituents that the financial crisis is real and more taxes are necessary to provide the services residents expect, Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux said.
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“If the community says ‘no’ to more revenue, they’re saying ‘yes’ to more crime, ‘yes’ to no parks and recreation,” Councilman Kevin Naquin said. “It’s not about re-election. It’s about doing what’s right, doing the right thing and not the popular thing.”
A second summit will probably be held to further discuss the suggestions and narrow the list of possible solutions.
View a presentation about the parish budget crisis at: http://www.lafayettela.gov/Council/SiteAssets/Files/Revenue-Evaluations-Committee-Presentation-03122018.pdf