Debate over how to spend library fund balance ends with a whimper

Council members Pat Lewis (left), Kenneth Boudreaux and Bruce Conque Photo by Travis Gauthier

The gist: After a year of rancorous debate, the final fate of the library’s fund balance ended with nary a word spoken for or against it. No council discussion. No public comment. Just a silent 7-1 vote in favor of building a new northside library and expanding the North Regional Library in Carencro.

Get caught up, quickly: Mayor-President Joel Robideaux proposed transferring $18 million of the library’s fund balance to infrastructure projects, justifying the request by repeatedly attacking the library’s fiscal stewardship. The council amended his proposal to reduce the amount being transferred to carve out money for a new library northeast of the Evangeline Thruway. The episode marked the culmination of a year of controversy and conflict surrounding the Lafayette Public Library System. The transfer proposition will go before voters in October.

With the dust settling, a plan emerges. The library’s $26 million in unassigned fund balance will be divvied up as follows:

  • $8 million for new library on the northside
  • $4 million for North Regional Library expansion
  • $8 million moved to drainage*
  • $2 million moved to parks and recreation*
  • $4 million left for the library’s operations

(* assuming the public votes yes Oct. 12)

Northside’s getting a library. It’s got the same $8 million budget as was used to build the new West Regional Library that just opened in Scott. Historically, it’s taken five years to build a library, so it’ll be at least a few years before it opens. Sites around the Holy Rosary Institute and Louisiana Avenue have been floated as potential landing spots.

Carencro’s getting a bigger library. The library’s leadership was conservative when it built the North Regional Library. The plan all along was to come back in future years and expand it. Now that work can get started, adding new meeting rooms and enhanced facilities.

The library is paying for its expansions in cash. What the council did last night was approve the library’s request to spend some its unassigned fund balance on these two expansion projects. So there will be no hike in taxes to pay back any debt to fund these improvements.

What to watch out for: What happens to the library’s budget over the next couple of years. The library’s revenues are projected to drop from $13.8 million to $10.5 million because of the library’s third millage failing to renew last year. Meanwhile, the cost to operate its facilities and services this fiscal year is $12.8 million, which means next year the library will either have to cut millions from its budget or eat into its now meager fund balance. At the same time, property tax revenue — which funds the library through two millages — is projected to flatline, and the library will have to make room in its budget to operate the new northside library.