Council Preview 9/1: Higher taxes, fighting for city autonomy, millions in new spending, new restrictions on citizens

The gist: Tax increases, budget battles, new restrictions on citizens, short-term rentals, millions of dollars being spent on parish parks and the Buchanan garage are just some of what the councils will work through at tomorrow night’s meetings. All of this is set against a backdrop of rapidly deteriorating race relations and an increasingly embattled mayor-president.

Parish Council agenda
Joint council agenda
City Council agenda

Higher taxes may be on the way in the city and parish. The City Council and Parish Council are both looking to move forward with increasing their millages to offset the fall in total assessed property values in the city and parish, respectively. Normally, increasing millage rates requires a vote of the public, but taxing authorities have the option to increase rates when total assessed property values fall to ensure local government doesn’t suffer from a shortfall in revenue. If approved, the city of Lafayette’s total property taxes will rise from 17.78 to 18.77 mills, while parish government’s total property taxes will rise from 24.91 to 26.545 in municipalities and 26.44 to 28.17 in unincorporated areas. Note that these parish millages only cover those that fund Lafayette Consolidated Government. The same option to increase millages is available to other parish governmental entities like the school system and the sheriff’s office. LEDA’s commission has already increased its millage. Also on the parish’s docket is an ordinance to increase the airport’s millage. Not surprisingly, there has been some public opposition to these increases. But parish government, in particular, finds itself between a rock and a hard place because any losses in revenue would have to be offset with cuts to a budget that’s already been trimmed to the bone. 

Dedicated legal counsel for the city could be approved. The City Council has selected Lea Anne Batson, former city-parish attorney for Baton Rouge, to represent the city’s interests in navigating contentious issues related to joint decision making in the new split council charter. At stake with this hire is the near-term future of the City Council’s autonomy to have sole authority to decide how to spend city dollars.

New rules for short-term rentals are back on the docket. The City Council will decide on new rules for short-term rentals in the city. If passed, it will require anyone offering short-term rentals to secure certificates of occupancy. The space they use must be dedicated solely to temporary residential occupancy of less than 30 consecutive days. And these rentals aren’t allowed to be used for receptions or private parties. The city’s planning commission also recommended other restrictions, like limiting short-term rentals to owner-occupied properties. We’ll find out more tomorrow if additional amendments will be added.

The city may be outsourcing its false alarm management program to a company called PMAM Corporation. This deal would outsource the assessment and collection of fees for false alarms to a private company. The intent is to reduce the city police department’s workload. PMAM Corporation will get paid by keeping 25% of the fines it collects for the city. It claims that the city’s revenue should not drop overall, as it will increase the total fines being collected.

There’ll be a report on the status of LCG’s Business Recovery Grant program. This program has struggled to get off the ground, only able to approve less than $25,000 to date of the $800,000 allocated to provide funding to help local small businesses impacted by the governor’s shutdown orders. Many housing advocates are questioning why these funds should be left to languish in a program that’s clearly failing to achieve its initial mission when hundreds of residents are at risk of losing housing. 

More regulations may get approved for what people can do in our city and parish. Go-cups are at risk of going away again except for special events Downtown. A permanent 8 p.m. curfew may be instituted for minors Downtown. And a new rule is being considered to outlaw sitting or standing within three feet of a public roadway. Community advocates have questioned what appears to be an attack on our homeless population. The administration argues that this ordinance does not target the homeless but instead sign holders and panhandlers, many of whom they believe aren’t homeless. Meanwhile, officials also acknowledge that panhandling isn’t illegal and that they can’t approve rules that explicitly limit its practice. 

The parish may be spending its $2 million for parks. In October, the public voted to rededicate $2 million of the library’s fund balance to parish parks. Now the Parish Council is voting to divvy up $1.8 million of that to parish parks while allocating $200,000 to reimburse expenses to help keep open the four rec centers the mayor-president announced he was closing.

The Buchanan garage could get fixed, though it’ll cost the parish dearly to do so. Guillory has proposed spending $3.5 million from the courthouse complex fund balance to repair the garage. But if the Parish Council moves forward with this plan, it will effectively zero out the courthouse complex fund, which is what pays for the costs of the district courthouse and helps subsidize the parish jail. With no fund balance, that means there will be no capital available to cover unforeseen expenses. So while the courthouse may regain its parking garage, it could lose its ability to fund repairs.

Public comments may go wild again. A protest event has been circulating online encouraging supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement to show up in force to the City Council meeting at 5 p.m. But the City Council meeting doesn’t start until 6 p.m. or later, depending on how long the parish and joint council meetings last. There also isn’t a forum for public comment at the joint or City Council meetings. Instead, it’s only open mic night at the Parish Council meeting. Whether there will be a large public turnout and another marathon comment session will determine if the business of the City Council is again delayed until the wee hours of the evening