The gist: Tax increases, budget battles, new restrictions on citizens, short-term rentals, millions of dollars being spent on parish parks and the Buchanan garage are just some of what the councils will work through at tomorrow night’s meetings. All of this is set against a backdrop of rapidly deteriorating race relations and an increasingly embattled mayor-president.
LCG’s budgetmaking process can be complicated in a normal year, and this is far from a normal year. Newly split councils, a mayor-president deadset on slashing budgets, and an uncertain economy has created a perfect storm for a tense budgetmaking process. As the councils round the corner on amending this budget, these are some of the top issues still to be resolved.
COLUMN: Cutting quality of life services will backfire, hurting Lafayette’s economy for years to come
In order to be economically competitive as a city, Lafayette needs to offer quality of life amenities. In the rush to cut budgets, Mayor-President Guillory is putting the city’s quality of life at risk, reducing its ability to retain and attract people, especially young families.
Council Preview 8/18: A report on the LUS report, go-cups (again), early voting in North Lafayette, splitting up city and parish parks
Here are the highlights for Tuesday night’s city, parish, and joint council meetings. To view the full agendas click here, select 8/18/2020 from the dropdown menu, and then click on the agenda or agenda item you want to dive into.
The decline in property values could reduce LCG’s revenues by millions. That drop will force the City and Parish councils to either raise millage rates or cut their budgets further.
Parish government has been on life support for years now. With the city’s finances now strained, it’s time for the parish to get serious about living within its means.
Council Preview 8/4: Another special meeting on parks, LUS investigations, flood modeling, new early voting sites and scooters
The gist: Other than filling 40 appointments to boards and commissions, these should be relatively light council meetings, though everyone could probably use a break after the 10-hour marathon meetings two weeks ago. The main hot-button topics are a report on the ongoing LUS investigation, the addition of early voting sites, and the potential establishment of new rules that could welcome shared services back to our streets. And in late-breaking news, the City Council is calling an emergency meeting to consider an ordinance splitting up city and parish funding for the parks department.
The City Council has scheduled an Aug. 4 emergency meeting, immediately after tomorrow’s regular meeting, to split up funding of the parks department. An ordinance authored by City Councilwomen Liz Hebert and Nanette Cook would keep city and parish funding separate in the parks department. That means the City Council would have control over how city dollars are spent on city parks and the Parish Council would control how parish dollars are spent on parish parks. This would address a host of issues, like the one that occurred last week when the Parish Council failed to second the opening of discussion over an emergency ordinance to continue funding the rec centers the mayor-president wants to shut down. Both councils, however, would still have to approve the overall budget.
Lots to report on at LUS. While there are no votes happening with LUS, there will be two reports to the City Council, one giving update on the LUS investigations and the other on the status of LUS’s IRP. At the last council meeting, the administration dropped a bit of a bombshell that the missing emails aren’t actually missing, so there’s a possibility of more fireworks to come.
There will also be a report on AOC’s services. Acadiana Open Channel streams all council meetings as well as most LCG special meetings and events so the public can stay connected to the democratic process. It’s a service that has taken on extra importance in the midst of a pandemic when many can’t risk attending in person. AOC’s services are paid for by franchise fees paid by local cable TV and Internet providers.
Disclosure: AOC Community Media serves as The Current’s fiscal agent.
So many appointments. Between the City and Parish Councils there will be 40 board/committee seats filled with appointments, including a number of seats on entities like the Heymann Center, the Lafayette Science Museum, and the Cajundome, all of which are facing reductions in their subsidies from the city general fund.
New early voting sites moving forward. The Parish Council will vote on final adoption of an ordinance to partner with the cities of Broussard and Youngsville to have them cover the costs of setting up an early voting site at the East Regional Library. The City Council will vote to introduce an ordinance to partner with the parish to cover the costs of setting up an early voting side at the Martin Luther King Recreation Center. Setting up this second early voting site is projected to cost the city $66,000.
Scooters may be returning, but there will be rules, lots of rules. Up for final adoption by the joint councils is an extensive set of rules that could allow for the return of shared electric scooter services like Bird. These scooters were originally quite controversial; while some loved them, others hated how the scooters ended up littered everywhere. With these new rules in place, at least some of those bad behaviors should be curtailed. That’s because all shared scooter operators will have to pay application fees and a registration fee for each scooter and face penalties if they’re not maintained and operated properly.
LCG may hire UL to study flooding and channel capacity in Lafayette Parish. UL researchers have already developed a model of how water flows through our parish. The joint councils will vote to introduce an ordinance authorizing the Mayor-President to enter into a cooperative endeavor agreement to pay those researchers $52,000 to study potential changes to Lafayette Parish’s drainage system.
The parish has a final vote on handing the keys to Arceneaux Park to the city of Broussard. The parish already set up a similar arrangement for Foster Park with the city of Youngsville. If this passes, the city of Broussard will become responsible for maintaining and improving Arceneaux Park. Deals like this are being pursued because other cities in the parish want to see these parks become quality of life assets and avoid disinvestment. And the parish simply doesn’t have the money to keep them up.
It’s not surprising that the decision to shutter widely used cultural and community facilities has sparked significant public outcry. But it’s a choice — not a necessity.
As local public schools navigate the pandemic in their quest to reopen, the longstanding challenges associated with the digital divide in Lafayette are making things a lot more complicated. It’s hard to do distance learning when thousands of students can’t access the Internet.
The gist: The fallout of LCG’s failing financials continues, with pay raises on the chopping block. At the same time, the Bottle Arts Lofts project is looking for more taxpayer support. The City Council will take up backing Mayor-President Guillory’s push to move the Mouton statue. And scooters may be returning to Lafayette’s streets. Access the agendas here.
The city council will discuss throwing their support behind the push to move the Mouton statue. At the beginning of July, Mayor-President Josh Guillory announced his intent to move the General Mouton statue away from its perch at a prominent Downtown intersection. Tomorrow, the Lafayette City Council will vote on a resolution formalizing its support for this effort. While the resolution won’t carry the weight of law, it will be a significant symbolic next step in this decades-long process to relocate what many see as a monument glorifying slavery.
More city sales tax money may be used to prop up the city’s general fund. The city of Lafayette collects two 1-cent sales taxes. Currently, up to 35% of that money can be used for operating expenses in the city’s general fund. The rest is used to fund the city’s capital investments in things like roads and buildings. City Councilman Pat Lewis has submitted a resolution that would call a public vote before year’s end to raise the amount of those funds that can go into the city’s general fund to 45%. This would increase city general fund revenue by approximately $8 million. Doing this would reduce the city’s funds dedicated to capital but would go a long way to closing what is now the city’s $11 million operating deficit next year.
The Bottle Arts Lofts is asking for more taxpayer support. This redevelopment of the old Coke bottling plant at Four Corners into artists lofts has already received a $1.5 million no-interest loan from the city. Now the developers of this project are requesting historic restoration tax abatements from both the city and parish councils. Basically, they don’t want to pay property taxes for five years. In total this will cost both the city and the parish about $720,000 in new property tax revenue, or more than $1.4 million over the next five years. Critics of this project question the economics of this project, which is more than 80% funded by taxpayer dollars and is budgeted to cost three to four times the market value of surrounding properties on a per-square-foot basis.
Suspension of pay increases up for final adoption. One of the victims of LCG’s financial challenges could be the 2% pay raises LCG employees, as well as fire and police, are supposed to receive. With the city in particular facing a $28 million operating deficit, decisions like this may be inevitable, but they’re still going to be frustrating to the people who work at LCG and are counting on these raises.
State roads may start looking nicer. A plan to have LCG take over responsibility for mowing and picking up litter on state roads may take another step forward. The challenge has been that the state doesn’t have the manpower to handle this responsibility. The plan is for the state to instead pay LCG to get this work done. Hopefully it’ll mean major state roads like Johnston, Pinhook, the Evangeline Thruway and University will start looking a lot nicer if this deal comes together.
Scooters may be coming back! An introductory ordinance of the joint council would start the process of putting in place rules that are required to allow shared scooter services like Bird and Lime back on Lafayette’s streets. It’s not clear yet if these rules will pass or, if they do, whether those scooters will instantly reappear. But it’s likely to lead to another lively debate as there are people who passionately support and oppose them.
Look out for an update on the Buchanan Garage. At the Parish Council meeting, there’ll be a report on the state of the Buchanan Garage. The last news about that property involved taking down all the concrete panels to assess the extent to the damage and determine whether the building could be salvaged. Look for more insight into what the next steps might be, whether it’s fixing the structure and reopening it or tearing it down.
A new early voting branch may be opening at the East Regional Library, but not everyone’s happy about it. The site would be funded initially by the cities of Broussard and Youngsville. But the League of Women Voters has voiced concern about investing in another site while voter accessibility continues to be a problem at the primary early voting site in Downtown Lafayette. Making this all the more difficult is the parish’s financial struggles, which limit its options for making any improvements on its own.
Broussard may be taking over Arceneaux Park. Following the lead of Youngsville, which took over maintenance of Foster Park earlier this summer, Broussard is proposing to take responsibility for maintaining Arceneaux Park. The parish has multiple parks in other municipalities, but has had limited funds to maintain these parks. These transfers allow these cities to ensure these parks are assets rather than eyesores.
Lafayette’s economy can’t get healthy if its people aren’t healthy. The only way to slow the spread of this coronavirus is to get 80-90% of people to wear masks or to shut the everything back down again. Faced with those options, Lafayette needs to do everything in its power to get people to wear masks, not just to save lives but to save our economy.
In the next couple of years, LUS has to make a series of huge decisions. But the issues that matter are getting drowned out by the political theater that’s been drummed up around potentially illegal payments from LUS to LUS Fiber. Lafayette can’t afford to get distracted.