Currency
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OPINION: Consolidated government is letting everyone down

Illustration by Peter DeHart

We’re nearing the end of the current chapter in the ongoing consolidation saga. The Protect the City Committee is wrapping up its report. The question they’ve been exploring is whether consolidated government is fair to the city of Lafayette. Spoiler alert: It’s not

No one should be surprised. Lafayette’s form of consolidated government is irreparably broken. But not just because the city lost more than $100 million propping up the parish’s finances. Consolidated government is also letting down residents in smaller cities, in unincorporated areas, and across the entire parish too. It’s a bad deal for everyone. 

(You can hear me speak more on these matters at the next PTC meeting Tuesday at 11 a.m. at City Hall or online here.)

Take drainage. All property owners pay a parish drainage tax. But parish government doesn’t spend any money on drainage in the smaller cities, because it can’t afford to. Because of consolidation, some of that parish drainage money is spent in the city of Lafayette, but the smaller cities are being left to fend for themselves. 

Or roads. Parish roads in unincorporated Lafayette are supposed to be maintained by the parish roads tax. But consolidation diverts that tax to pay for the operational costs of maintaining roads in Lafayette city limits too. The city spends way more money on capital outlay for roads than the parish, yet the parish roads tax covers 70% of the cost of operating the roads and bridges department. So, in effect, parish dollars are being spent maintaining city roads. If that wasn’t the case, the parish would have millions more available every year to maintain and improve roads and bridges in unincorporated Lafayette.

Yes, the parish needs protecting too. This whole arrangement of consolidated government is unfair to parish taxpayers. Now this may surprise my readers, as I’ve hounded about how unfairly burdened city government is with the cost of running LCG. But parish taxpayers are also getting the short end of this stick. The scale of LCG is much bigger than what parish government would be if it operated independently. So even if the parish is only paying 20% or less of some of the shared costs of operating consolidating government, parish taxpayers may be paying for more government than they need.  

For example, while the parish only pays for 14% of the IT operations budget, that still adds up to almost $1 million per year. An independent and streamlined parish government would only need to spend a fraction of that, potentially freeing up hundreds of thousands of dollars for other critical parish needs like fire protection in unincorporated areas.

The original logic of consolidation was parish government would be small enough to tuck into the regular operations of city government and save money. That’s not what happened. Government got more expensive for both sides of the consolidated coin. 

No one is getting the leader they deserve. Can you imagine a $500 million corporation run by a part-time CEO? That’s exactly what’s happening to the city of Lafayette. It’s absurd that the city is saddled with a part-time mayor to manage its $500 million-per-year operations, especially when the city can clearly afford — and needs — its own full-time mayor. 

How about a $50 million corporation run by a CEO who spends 80% of his time doing something else? I’ve just described Lafayette Parish government’s relationship to its parish president. An independent and streamlined parish government could still be run by a part-time parish president, but it would need more than the 20% of the mayor-president’s time it’s currently paying for. 

Consolidation is letting everybody down. Smaller cities aren’t getting help with drainage. Unincorporated areas aren’t getting their roads properly taken care of. Parish government is being forced to pay more and get less attention. That’s on top of the raw deal city taxpayers are getting: shelling out tens of millions of dollars to prop this whole janky system up, unable to even pick our own mayor. 

We need to stop pretending that consolidated government is serving anyone’s needs. Consolidation has clearly failed to deliver on its promises. And we need to accept that there is no way to fix consolidated government to make it work for everyone. Because there are just too many structural limitations and inherent conflicts of interest for consolidation to ever address the needs of all parties fairly. 

It’s time we end our failed experiment. It’s not just the city that needs protection from consolidated government. Everyone does.