Funding parish fire protection to be next council’s problem 

Councilman Josh Carlson sits at a public meeting
Departing Parish Councilman Josh Carlson called the unincorporated area's unfunded reliance on municipal fire departments "fundamentally unfair" as the council discussed the need for long-term fire protection revenue. Photo by Travis Gauthier

Departing members of Lafayette’s Parish Council are calling on the new council taking office in January to address the parish’s unfair system of funding rural fire protection. 

Councilmen Josh Carlson and Kevin Naquin, who will leave office in January, said at last week’s meeting that Lafayette Parish’s system for funding rural fire protection puts an unfair burden on the residents of cities and towns, who pay to run their own fire departments that are frequently responding to calls outside their limits. 

In Lafayette Parish’s cities and towns, residents pay additional taxes, primarily on property, to support their municipal fire departments. Those municipal departments frequently respond to calls outside their city limits in the parish’s unincorporated areas, where some 72,000 people live, effectively paying for their fire protection without collecting taxes from those areas. 

Residents of the unincorporated areas don’t pay additional taxes for fire protection, so the Parish Council gives those municipal departments funds for responding outside their city limits. But that funding is far from sufficient for the scale of calls coming from the unincorporated areas, and it represents a fraction of the budgets of those municipal departments. 

Calls vs. Funding:

Municipal Fire Dept. % of calls outside limits% of budget from parish

Much of that funding comes from parishwide property taxes that have been rededicated to fire protection in recent years, amounting to about $890,000 in annual revenue. But that tax is collected parishwide — not just in the unincorporated areas — meaning 82% of that $890,000 comes from city residents who already pay additional taxes for their own fire departments. 

That money is less than half of the recurring support municipal fire departments in the parish would need each year to offset the cost of responding to calls in the unincorporated areas, according to the Lafayette Fire Protection Association, which represents the parish’s various fire departments and is led by Broussard Fire Chief Bryan Champagne. 

Champagne asked the council for $1.8 million in annual reimbursements for unincorporated fire protection last week, but that’s not likely to happen without a new tax, as Naquin pointed out, which would have to pass the council before it could be put before voters. 

“The future administration and future council members, some of y’all don’t like to talk about that three-letter word: tax. But I don’t see how you’re going to sustain where you’re at and how those municipalities are going to continue to serve if they continue digging in their pockets,” said Naquin, who was a supporter of the unsuccessful 2018 proposal to create a new, 10-mill property tax solely in unincorporated areas to fund fire protection. 

The 2018 proposal was expected to generate some $4 million each year, but it was rejected by voters in the unincorporated areas, particularly around Carencro and Youngsville. Reaching that $1.8 million target may be an easier sell, since it could be covered by an unincorporated property tax of about 4.6 mills, less than half the rate of the 2018 proposal. 

Carlson, who is leaving the council for a seat in the state Legislature next year, has been a strong opponent of tax increases during his single term on the council, but he acknowledged that dedicated, long-term funding is needed from the unincorporated areas. 

“It is fundamentally unfair to continue to ask these cities, mayors and councils, to utilize their resources, the tax resources that are supposed to be dedicated just for those cities,” Carlson said.

Councilman AB Rubin, who is returning for his second term next year, agreed that an unincorporated fire protection millage needs to be reconsidered by the next council, but councilmen Bryan Tabor and John Guilbeau had little to say about the issue during the discussion at last week’s meeting. 

The trio of returning members will be joined by two new additions next year in Republican Donald Richard, who is taking Naquin’s seat, and former Youngsville City Councilman Ken Stansbury, who will be the first member of the Parish Council to live in one of the parish’s municipalities.