Parish Council told it’s too broke to improve early voting, jail or courthouse

The Lafayette Parish government building in Downtown Lafayette. Photo by Allison DeHart

The gist: Only a few weeks in, and the new Parish Council is beginning to grapple with its budget woes. Consolidated government’s chief financial officer painted a bleak picture: Funds for the jail and courthouse will dry up, and there’s no money to add more early voting locations.

Early voting isn’t all that expensive. Adding another location is estimated to cost $25,000 to $30,000. But the parish can’t even afford that, according to Parish Councilman Kevin Naquin. The money would have to come from the parish general fund, which currently carries a fund balance of $50,000.

The only early voting location Lafayette has now faces serious accessibility issues. It’s located on the third floor of the parish government building in Downtown Lafayette. Not only are its elevators small and slow, but when early voting gets busy people end up having to line up in the stairwell and even out onto the street.

There may be money from the state to help. The Help America Vote Act has provided $9 million in federal money to the state to improve voting accessibility. And Parish Councilman John Guilbeau is working to secure some of that funding for Lafayette. But it’s not clear yet if that money can be accessed in time to get another early voting location set up by the presidential elections this fall. Early voting turnout has ballooned recently, and the November ballots could see a big electorate. 

This isn’t anything new. The parish budget has been in dire straits for some time, and a big part of the pressure comes from state mandated expenses to operate and maintain the parish correctional center and courthouse. If nothing else changes, the courthouse’s fund balance will be zeroed out in the next fiscal year, according to LCG Chief Financial Officer Lorrie Toups.

The jail millage is insufficient to pay for the jail’s operations, maintenance and capital requirements. So the jail is receiving a subsidy of $6.4 million from the courthouse’s millage this year.

But the courthouse millage is insufficient to pay for courthouse operations, maintenance and capital requirements and subsidize the jail’s. Toups pointed out that the $6.4 million subsidy for the jail is more than the $5.4 million the courthouse millage collects. For this year, the courthouse’s fund balance is projected to fall from $9 million to $2.5 million.

The juvenile detention facility millage is sufficient to keep this fund solvent for now. The juvenile detention facility is carrying a fund balance of $3.8 million, though that’s slated to drop to $3.1 million by year’s end. And like the courthouse and the jail, the juvenile detention facility is old and in need of significant capital investment.

Naquin floated the idea of combining these three millages into one. In recent years, the council has combined other funds, like animal control, mosquito control and public health millages. But as Toups noted, those taxes were collecting more money than was needed, and the public health millage in particular had amassed a significant fund balance — it was later rededicated for drainage. But there’s no excess revenue being collected from the jail, courthouse and juvenile detention facility millages, and the only fund balance that’s available is the $3.1 million in the juvenile detention facility fund.

Mayor-President Josh Guillory is open to any new ideas except raising taxes. There was a limited discussion about everyone needing to work together to find solutions to these problems, but it’s uncertain what solutions can be found when there simply isn’t enough money coming in the door and little to no appetite for considering new taxes.

These issues are only the tip of the parish’s financial iceberg. As we enter the budgeting season, we’re going to see more and more examples of the ramifications of the parish being unable to afford to pay for its basic obligations. This discussion was only a small precursor of what’s to come.