1/19 Council Preview: Another stab at deconsolidation, federal dollars for police, parish financial woes continue

Illustration: Two figures peeking under a giant rug-sized Lafayette Consolidated Government logo
Illustration by Peter DeHart

The gist: The push toward deconsolidation may take a big step forward as the City Council considers establishing a committee to assess how consolidation is working. Meanwhile, the city’s police may breathe easier, millions more arrive from the federal government, and the parish government continues to not have enough money to pay for its needs. 

City Councilman Pat Lewis is throwing down the deconsolidation gauntlet. He’s proposing a resolution to form a Protect the City Committee, which will be made up of seven city residents brought together to focus on answering a series of questions about how well consolidation is working for the city of Lafayette. In this resolution, he cites the series of challenges the city has faced in the last year, including issues where the council and mayor-president have locked horns.

The overarching impetus for this effort is the fear the City Council has that city dollars are being improperly used to fund more than the city’s legal share of consolidated services. The resolution acknowledges that the charter amendments that split the council into two have failed to fix inherent problems in consolidation. The resolution also previews the possibility that a charter commission be formed to propose new charters to voters. 

There appears to be growing support on both the City and Parish councils as well as among the public to take another run at seriously considering deconsolidation or some other major changes to Lafayette Consolidated Government’s structure. This should be a major topic of discussion throughout 2021 and into next year, as Lewis has indicated his goal is to get something on the November 2022 ballot to further amend or fully replace Lafayette’s charter so that the city can regain more of its independence.

Some police buildings are getting equipped with COVID-killing tech. The Lafayette Police Department headquarters, shooting range, Precinct 4 building, and Precinct 4 defensive tactics building are all getting their air handlers equipped with plasma ionizers, which can destroy the coronavirus and better clean the air. This project is funded by a $39,100 grant from the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement.

Joint council meetings may be returning. After a series of marathon council meetings, the City and Parish councils voted to change their rules to limit the length of meetings, which included eliminating joint council meetings. After a few months of voting on joint resolutions and ordinances separately, both councils are now looking at adjusting the rules again to reinstate the use of joint council meetings.

The Ambassador Caffery soundwall may be getting replaced. The City Council will be voting on an initiative spearheaded by City Council member Liz Webb-Hebert to take $800,000 from the prior year fund balance to pay to replace this soundwall which has become an eyesore and public safety hazard.

City Marshal employees may be getting 2% raises, though it’s conditional. If this joint ordinance passes its final adoption vote, the City Marshal’s employees will join police and fire department employees in the program that was approved in 2019 whereby 2% pay raises will automatically be given whenever the city’s total revenue from property taxes, sales taxes and ILOT payments from LUS grow more than 2% in a year. 

LCG is getting another $3.25 million through Louisiana’s Office of Community Development from the CARES Act. $2.9 million of that money will go into the city general fund, while the rest will be spread across a variety of different LCG departments.

Parish government continues robbing Peter to pay Paul. The Parish Council will consider an ordinance up for introduction to reallocate $300,000 for elevators at the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center to a line item for general improvements and repairs. Parish government simply doesn’t have enough money to cover its costs, so it’s been going through a process of having to take money away from projects to cover more urgent expenses. It’s not the first time this has been done, and it won’t be the last. Especially as it relates to the courthouse and jail, as last year the Parish Council voted to effectively zero out the Courthouse Complex’s fund balance to repair the Buchanan Garage.

As a reminder, it’s the city’s turn for public comments. Whereas public comments for City and Parish council meetings used to happen on the same day, last year after those marathon meetings the rules were changed so the city and parish alternate when they hold their open mic nights.

The City Council is announcing two vacancies on the Protect the City Committee. Each individual City Council member gets to appoint one person to this committee. And then the City Council as a whole will appoint two people together. This all assumes that the resolution to establish this committee passes.

Want to be on the Protect the City Committee? City residents who are registered voters can send resumes to [email protected] by Feb. 9.