What’s Jim Bernhard’s bid to run LUS really worth?
While one economist may be projecting the end of Lafayette’s recession, more context is needed to understand the situation our economy is in
The day started with the news that LAGCOE was leaving for New Orleans and ended with a pitch competition that’s a symbol for a future where Lafayette is a hub for healthtech startups.
The gist: Lafayette Parish Tax Assessor Conrad Comeaux has just finished up the latest tax roll, confirming that Lafayette lost hundreds of millions of dollars in movable property since 2015.
$559 million: That’s the total decrease in movable property in Lafayette from 2015 to 2017.
What does “movable property” mean? Movable property refers to the property owned by businesses other than real estate, things like equipment and inventory.
How big of a deal is this? Compared to the overall value of real and movable property in Lafayette Parish of more than $20 billion, we’re only talking about a loss of a couple of percentage points. But when you look at movable property on its own, the decrease is more like 10 percent. What this means is 10 percent less tax revenue generated by movable property, which adds up to millions of dollars of lost income for Lafayette Consolidated Government, the Lafayette Parish School System, the Lafayette Parish Courthouse, and every other organization that relies on property tax millages to fund their operations.
$10 million: That’s the amount the total assessable value of the property tax roll increased from 2016-2017. The reason for this is that real estate values have continued to hold steady or go up, which has offset the losses in movable property. But even here the numbers don’t look great as the total value of real estate in the parish rose more than $400 million to about $18 billion in total. That means the total residential and commercial real estate values in Lafayette Parish only increased a bit more than 2 percent. On average nationally, commercial property values increased more than 7 percent and residential property values more than 5 percent. Put another way, if real estate values in Lafayette Parish had increased 5 percent instead of 2 percent and if movable property values had just held even, the market value of our property tax roll would be about a billion dollars higher and generating more than $10 million in additional tax revenue for the aforementioned entities.
But this is all just about oil and gas, right? While these trends may have started in oil and gas, they’ve spread throughout Lafayette’s economy as retailers are stocking less inventory and banks are seeing deposits go down. And while the value of real estate has been keeping our heads above water, we’re likely to start seeing that area get hit as well, as vacancy rates are higher in apartment buildings and occupancy rates are lower in hotels, both of which can negatively impact the value of those buildings and therefore put downward pressure on property tax revenues for LCG.
The Drag Queen Story Time episode’s impact is bigger than drag queens and literacy.
In the upcoming fiscal year the city general fund will bring in just over $100 million and end the year with a fund balance of almost $40 million. The parish general fund will bring in less than $12 million and end the year with a fund balance of about $100,000.
▸ The gist: On Tuesday, the Lafayette City-Parish Council voted to approve the creation of a new public trust, called the Lafayette Public Innovation Alliance, and seat its first trustees. They were approved to serve five-year terms by the City-Parish Council. Future trustees will be nominated by the mayor-president and approved either by the city-parish council or, if the proposed charter amendments pass, by the parish council. Robideaux named Lafayette Parish the beneficiary of the trust.
▸ The trustees are:
- Chris Meaux - CEO of Waitr
- Bruce Greenstein - EVP, chief innovation and technology officer at LHC Group
- Mandi Mitchell - assistant secretary of Louisiana Economic Development
- Ramesh Kolluru - VP for research, innovation and economic development at UL Lafayette
- Joel Robideaux
▸ Uh, what do they do, exactly? The primary goal of this trust is to produce and attract more technology and software development talent in Lafayette. There are no local public dollars being invested into the trust at this time — although Robideaux did offer to throw in the first $100 if that was required to make it kosher. The intent is to leverage the trustees’ contacts nationwide to find grants and get the trust funded and off the ground.
“Certainly any effort regarding a Lafayette-based cryptocurrency would naturally fit within the goals of the trust as I see them,” Robideaux wrote in an email. “More specific, if Lafayette develops a digital token and that token can generate seed money for the trust, then I would be elated.”
▸ What to watch for: Innovation districts. Robideaux indicated the fund could finance innovation districts that would help the region attract new talent. “We need to produce more talent locally, or implement a strategy to attract talent from other places…specifically technology talent,” he said at the meeting. While there was nothing specific about what that might entail, the idea resembles similar efforts underway in Chattanooga, which claims to be the first mid-sized city to establish an innovation district.
Not every argument against separate councils holds water, but some are compelling and worth exploring
While there are more questions than answers about selling LUS, one thing we know for sure is that it’s a perfect example of the unfairness baked into the structure of Lafayette’s consolidated government.
Lafayette needs less uncertainty from local government not more. But that’s not the direction we’re going.
No project is perhaps more emblematic of the morass Downtown has been in than the old federal courthouse. Yet, a project of this magnitude is exactly what we need to catalyze development.
While headlines have focused on the creation of 400 jobs, there’s a lot more to unpack about the benefits to Lafayette’s digital economy.