How will you promote sustainable economic development that doesn’t add to consolidated government’s financial burden, and diversify the local economy?
I think that your question is very misleading. The consolidated government does not have a "burden." The City of Lafayette has acquired assets and reserve funds aplenty. But the Parish is virtually BROKE!
Currently there is more than $1.3 million dollars delinquent in property taxes which would all belong to the parish. What are we doing to collect those taxes? Absolutely nothing! I would work closely with the Tax Assessor's office to create a small committee to focus on collecting those delinquent tax bills.
And that's not all!
I would propose a 1% tax for the entire parish for a two-year period, which would all go to the parish coffers. This would give the parish an opportunity to "get back on its feet." The tax would have a beginning date and an end date, similar to the recently passed airport tax. The airport tax yielded $36.2 million in eight months. At that rate, a 1% tax for two years would yield $108.6 million for the parish. This would allow the parish to purchase much-needed equipment and allow the parish to have an actual "working" budget, so that the parish can spend its monies more pro-actively rather than reactively.
The major part of the parish's money woes is that there is less and less area in the Parish, since many of the municipalities have been annexing more and more areas of the parish, which decreases the taxable area that belongs to the parish. Some towns have used state and parish funds to build infrastructure outside of their city limits, and then annex the areas once businesses begin developing there. But the parish never gets reimbursed for the monies spent, and the town reaps the benefits. That's just not fair, and verges on corruption.
I am also in favor of selling the Buchanan Street garage. This is another instance of poor leadership by allowing a parish-owned asset, which at one point was actually a source of income for the parish, to become defunct and condemned.
My preferred choice is the Acadia Design Driven Development proposal of a 10-story mix of affordable and market-rate housing with space for retail stores and a hotel, along with public parking.
The first phase on parish-owned property and two private parcels would include a 670-space parking garage for courthouse employees, residents, hotel guests and 56 surplus spaces, along with 130 residential units and space for a hotel and retail stores. The second phase, which would require obtaining four more private parcels of land on the block, envisions another 87 residential units and additional hotel and retail space. In my opinion, this is the best use of this property, and it also addresses the parking needs of downtown Lafayette.
How will you use your position of influence to improve public education for children in our district?
Since I am not running for a position on the school board, all I can say is that I would support ANY measure to continue to fund education to the fullest. We have several under-performing schools in Lafayette Parish, mostly in the poorer areas of the parish. I firmly believe that raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would help to relieve those families suffering from poverty situations; thus affording those families more time to focus on their children's education instead of worrying how to pay for their next meal.
What changes to the parish budget and tax structure will you consider to stabilize finances, meet state mandated expenses and invest in parish infrastructure?
My first action would be to raise the minimum wage in Lafayette Parish to $15 per hour. When people make more money, they spend more money. Which means more money in sales taxes.
But that's not the only issue. Currently, the City of Lafayette has more in its reserve funds than the entire budget of the Parish of Lafayette. And during the 27+ years of consolidated government, the City has literally taken advantage of the Parish. For instance, as parish equipment became broken and unusable, the Consolidated Government would purchase new equipment, which then became owned by the City of Lafayette. So now, with a separated government, the parish will be forced to either purchase all of its own equipment all over again, or to rent that same equipment from the City. And remember, that with a $10 million+ budget, the parish has obligations for nearly 95% of that income, leaving very little discretionary money for emergencies and other expenses.
Currently, the Parish of Lafayette pays a 4 mill tax toward our budgeted expenses, yet the City and other incorporated areas of the Parish pay only 2 mills. I would suggest that the entire parish should be paying that 4 mill tax, and that the additional 2 mills collected from the cities should go directly to the Parish. This would give the Parish a constant source of income to make improvements to parish-owned assets, and maintain them properly.
How will you improve access to community services, health care, housing and a better quality of life for the disadvantaged in our district?
Many seniors and disabled persons have different needs. But they ALL need to be cared for. I would suggest better funding for our current bus system and perhaps add more routes that go into Scott, Duson, and Judice. Also, I would suggest that those persons who are disabled or over the age of 65 should be able to ride for free.
Now more on the "disadvantaged" persons.
We have a severe problem with our courts and jails. The district attorney's office and the public defender's office are not being properly funded. This causes overcrowding in the jail system, which is why Sheriff Garber requested more funding for corrections officers. We currently have over 500 persons sitting in our jails just waiting for a court date, since they cannot afford bail. I would increase the district attorney's budget and work with the State to better fund our public defender's office. The better that we staff those offices, the more our justice system will work in sync, and that alone could save money.
The three stems of the justice system should all work in unison. But you can't have all the gears in place and not continuously oil the gears.
In addition, the Probation and Parole office is overwhelmed and understaffed. For this reason, many persons on probation or parole are released early for "good behavior." This creates lost revenue for both the city and the parish.
In conclusion, raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would also result in less crime, since people would be earning an actual living wage.
What will you do to invest in drainage infrastructure and develop policies and strategies for stormwater management in our district?
I feel that the Lafayette City-Parish Government does a lot of "reactionary" spending as opposed to being pro-active in getting things done and maintaining its assets. Drainage is not a new problem, but LCG would have you believe that the drainage problem just "creeped up" on them. That's very untrue.
Over the years, Lafayette and all of the surrounding towns have grown tremendously, and as the planning commission has set regulations for new developments, those already existing homes and structures become more susceptible to flooding. So our own government is partly to blame for the current flooding problem.
Now, about the drainage. Dredging the Vermilion River is the absolute right thing to do, but LCG has known about the build-up of sludge in the Vermilion River for many years, yet nothing was ever done about it. Now, suddenly, it is a top priority! This project should have been done many years ago, but it was never a "priority" so funding was directed elsewhere. This is a prime example not having the foresight to be pro-active in maintaining ALL assets of our city and parish. Yes, the Vermilion River is an asset to our community, and it should be treated as such!