In scramble over Parish millage veto, hindsight is 2020

Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory at council meeting
Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory's use of police resources for his full-time security has been added to the investigation of his administration's drainage projects. Photo by Travis Gauthier

▸ The gist: The Lafayette Parish Council moved ahead Thursday with a new plan to keep property taxes flat this year after failing to override M-P Josh Guillory’s veto of a minor tax increase Tuesday. 

▸ Get caught up: The council is scrambling to pass this year’s property tax rates after failing to override Guillory’s veto, which erased 15 millages totaling some $67 million in annual revenue over a total increase of less than 0.5%.

▸ Guillory’s veto undid a 4-1 vote of the council in September to bump a handful of property taxes to their maximum allowable rates this year. The bump would have added about $837,000 for the library, public health, fire protection, drainage and road infrastructure at a small cost to the individual taxpayer. About $462,000 of that would go to the library, offsetting a cut of roughly $286,000 in library revenue that will take effect this year after voters set a lower maximum for one of the library’s two millages in 2021. 

See the vetoed plan’s proposed impact on your tax bill using the calculator below. 

Guillory’s veto erased the council’s entire slate of taxes, which bring in some $67 million annually, according to Assessor Conrad Comeaux. Two council members that supported the increases in September — Bryan Tabor and John Guilbeau — flipped support, joining the vote to uphold the veto. Both now argue the bump wasn’t actually necessary, saying current revenue is sufficient for existing operations. 

Acadiana’s top public health official again urged councilmen to increase the parish’s Public Health millage Thursday. Dr. Tina Stefanski told the council ahead of Tuesday’s veto vote that her office needs the current maximum to move forward with plans to increase pay for nurses amid recruiting challenges. 

Now the council is scrambling to set its millages as soon as possible to avoid delaying property tax bills next month. On Thursday, Guilbeau, Tabor and Councilman AB Rubin, who voted to override the veto, agreed to hold a Nov. 2 vote on Guillory’s original proposal to keep millages at their 2022 rates.

MillageVetoed Plan (mills)Current Plan (mills)Est. Revenue Difference ($)
Library (2017-2026)3.122.91-$462,434
Public Health2.0721.98-$202,590
Storm Water Management1.2351.18-$121,114
Parish Fire Protection (1)0.1830.175-$17,617
Parish Fire Protection (2)0.2410.23-$24,223
Parish Roads & Bridges0.0790.075-$8,808
Revenue calculations based on 2022 total parish assessed value.

▸ An identical situation played out in 2020, after Guillory vetoed Parish Council property taxes over similar increases in many of the same millages. At the time, Guillory urged the council to pass new ordinances without increases for the library, public health and other millages. 

This time, Guillory and council members attacked parish Assessor Conrad Comeaux for not highlighting that possibility until Tuesday, with Carlson accusing him of withholding “critical information.” But Comeaux put the blame on Guillory’s veto.

“This was all caused by a silly political trick that Josh Guillory pulled. It was totally irresponsible,” says Comeaux, who launched a PAC this fall opposing Guillory’s reelection bid. 

▸ Property tax bills can’t be mailed until the council sets this year’s rates, Comeaux says, meaning a delay into November would impact other taxing bodies, like the sheriff and the school system.

▸ This is a critical year for preserving millage maximums, even if the council doesn’t use them in the future, since next year’s reassessment will lower their maximums to this year’s rates.

▸ Lafayette’s councils have let maximums drop for decades, cutting off the potential to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual revenue and contributing to the parish’s financial struggles. It’s been a frequent complaint for Councilman Kevin Naquin, the council’s most senior member, who says the council should avoid that by raising rates this year, then lower them by twice as much next year to offset the impact. (Property tax rates can be raised or lowered each year depending on changes to anticipated revenue.)