The parish general fund has zero dollars; the city general fund has $46 million

The gist: LCG’s annual audit, presented this month to the City-Parish Council, revealed a worsening trend over the last fiscal year: The parish is out of money, while the city has a generous fund balance.

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The parish can’t afford to fix drainage without more money

Some want to claim that the only thing preventing us from fixing our flooding issues is a shift in priorities. But the reality is that the parish can’t afford to fix its drainage system without more revenue.

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A real-life fairytale Illustrator Denise Gallagher prepares to publish her first novel at age 50 and show her work this summer at the Hilliard.

Just six years ago, Denise Gallagher was working in advertising, retiring as BBR Creative’s senior art director after 14 years with the company. She’s since made a name for herself as a go-to illustrator, finding collaborators near and far.

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Food summit organizers want to mend broken links in the food chain

The inaugural South Louisiana Food Summit aims to fix communication gaps among farmers, restaurants and policy makers over a two-day slate of site visits and panels.

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Overnight downpour floods streets and homes in Lafayette areas spared in 2016

The gist: Intense rainfall hovered over central Lafayette neighborhoods, raising waters from drainage systems into homes that haven’t taken water in decades and onto streets that stayed relatively dry in 2016.

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Residents in the Saint Streets, LaPlace, McComb-Veazey, Freetown and elsewhere reported flooding in the streets, and homes in some cases, though not nearly as widespread as the floods of August 2016. A branch of Coulee Mine overtopped south of West St. Mary Boulevard, pouring water into some homes near the concrete-lined channel. Pop’s Poboys in Downtown Lafayette took on water for the seventh time since opening in 2015. Carpe Diem and The Juliet Hotel, across the street from Pop’s, flooded for the first time in recent memory.

A woman was rescued from a car trapped at the bottom of an underpass near Downtown in the early morning. Firefighters busted out the back window of her white SUV and pulled her out, according to bystanders. She was safely escorted by EMTs to an ambulance, walking under her own power. Water levels rose to 11 feet in the underpass, which forms a deep bowl beneath the railroad track. DDA CEO Anita Begnaud tells me that level is unprecedented.

The rain event equalled 2016 in intensity, but for a shorter period of time and over north-central Lafayette instead of further south. Lafayette Parish took 7 to 9 inches of rain between 5 and 8 this morning, according to KATC Chief Meteorologist Rob Perillo. Perillo tells me he expects to see more and more rain events of this scale, calling the intensity a “climate signal” — an event that bears the markings of climate change. Rapid urbanization is careening more stormwater runoff into drainage channels, he says, putting Lafayette Parish at a “crossroads” when it comes to how it deals with growth and a changing climate.

Youngsville stayed dry. South Lafayette was devastated by the floods of 2016, but escaped trouble in the Thursday morning downpour. Youngsville Mayor Ken Ritter credits the city's “aggressive” work on drainage infrastructure for the performance. Areas around Youngsville, however, saw relatively slower pours than in the 2016 deluge. In a sense, 2016 was repeated but reversed geographically in Lafayette Parish and confined to a shorter window.

By no means do I want to do a victory lap, but I’m pleased with what I’ve seen,” Ritter tells me.

The Vermilion crested for the 33rd time since 2010 and once again reversed flow. That figure points to the impact of development on flood levels. By contrast, the Vermilion River hit flood stage only five times in the 1980s. Flood events have increased alongside population growth in Lafayette Parish more broadly. This was the 6th flood stage recorded at the Surrey Street gauge since March 2016.

Why this matters: It appears the work cleaning out parish coulees and ditches has made a difference. Councilman Bruce Conque credits the work for easing the flow of the Coulee Orgeron between W. Congress Street and Johnston Street and preventing a repeat of flooding in homes along that channel. Still, Lafayette appears to face a more existential problem with respect to stormwater management.

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The rise of the independent voter?

Elections are more partisan than ever, but voters, not so much. Amid the culture wars and partisan bickering, more Americans than ever before are abandoning official party labels. More than 40% of all Americans now identify politically as independents. If 2018 was the “Year of the Woman,” could we see a “Year of the Independent” in our near future? In […]

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FBI joins probe of T.M. Landry school

The gist: After its blockbuster November exposé on T.M. Landry College Prep, The New York Times is keeping at it, making T.M. Landry the premiere story on its new TV series, The Weekly, and reporting Sunday that the FBI has turned its attention to the school. In The Weekly, which debuted Sunday night, the Times reporters acknowledged for the first time that they were tipped off to the story by a former federal prosecutor.

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This 29-year-old is building a thriving kale chip enterprise in Acadiana From the horse farm farmers' market to 17 Whole Foods Market locations and counting

Taylor Stokes is expanding her product reach to 10 Whole Foods stores in Houston, with the hopes of eventually distributing her products regionally.

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Millions in state dollars likely headed for Moncus Park, Lafayette airport, I-49 South and more

The gist: In an election year breakthrough, nearly 20 Lafayette Parish projects have survived into the final days of the state legislative session. Pending a signature from the governor, the area is set to pull more than $40 million in priority funding for some long-suffering projects, as well as $150 million in transportation dollars for I-49 South.

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“It’s a small victory, but it’s not the end of the process,” state Rep. Jean-Paul Coussan tells me. Coussan credits an areawide push to sell Acadiana projects to key figures like Gov. John Bel Edwards and state Sen. JP Morrell, the chair of the Senate’s Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee. Both Morrell and Edwards visited priority projects — Moncus Park and the airport, respectively — in the last year. Big budget capacity greased the skids as the political stars aligned.

Making it rain across South Louisiana. Here’s a list of some of the Priority 1 and 2 dollars (more on that in a minute) earmarked for Acadiana in HB2, the state’s infrastructure budget bill.

  • Lafayette Airport - $10 million (P1)
  • Moncus Park - $2 million (P2)
  • Lafayette Parish Courthouse - $3 million (P1)
  • Opportunity Machine Renovation - $5.6 million (P2)
  • Lafayette Metropolitan Expressway - $4 million (P2)
  • Apollo Road Extension - $5.5 million (P2)
  • University Avenue Corridor - $3 million (P2)
  • Holy Rosary Institute - $500,000 (P2)

Top priority dollars aren’t the entire outlay. HB2 includes more projects than the state can actually fund. Priority 1 dollars are typically paid outright. Priority 2 is for new projects paid by bonds. Other dollars are parked in Priority 5, which is essentially a queue for future allocations.

I-49 South got $150 million in BP oil spill money in a bonanza of riders to a transportation bill that ballooned the item to $700 million in total allocations, statewide. The I-49 money is cash for “shovel-ready” components of the project, not the Lafayette Connector, which alone is expected to cost half a billion dollars or more and will likely need federal funding to move forward.

This marks something of a breakthrough for the Acadiana delegation. Legislators have grumbled for several years that the region has been left out in the cold on state allocations. Some of the items in HB2 are outlays previously killed by Edwards, like funding for Moncus Park and Apollo Road. Insiders say the starve-out was a direct result of clashes between Acadiana’s largely Republican delegation and a Democratic governor.

"You gotta commend the legislative delegation,” LEDA CEO Gregg Gothreaux tells me of the haul. “It’s impressive.”  

What to watch for: Whether HB2 makes it to the end of session unchanged. And then, whether Edwards vetoes any of the projects, as he has in the past. Edwards has a lot of incentive to pass these projects through in an election year. Meanwhile, last year’s sales tax compromise gives the governor little reason to be punitive, some state political insiders tell me. There’s optimism that much of the outlay will make it.

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Debate over how to spend library fund balance ends with a whimper

The gist: After a year of rancorous debate, the final fate of the library’s fund balance ended with nary a word spoken for or against it. No council discussion. No public comment. Just a silent 7-1 vote in favor of building a new northside library and expanding the North Regional Library in Carencro.

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Robideaux moves to appoint split council transition team

The gist: While a legal challenge to the charter amendments winds through the courts, the mayor-president has begun preparing for government by two councils. As of this week, Joel Robideaux has defined a transition team structure, and four appointments have been made.

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Get caught up, quickly: Last year, Lafayette voted to split the City-Parish Council in two, cracking open some tough questions about how to dole out financial responsibility. That vote still faces a legal challenge that could overturn the decision.

“As we approach a legal resolution of the charter amendments,” Robideaux wrote in a Monday email to parish leaders, “it seems prudent to begin putting together an independent [Robideaux’s emphasis] transition team to work through anticipated and unanticipated issues.”

The team is comprised of appointees from parish offices plus UL President Dr. Joseph Savoie. Thus far four representatives have accepted appointments:

  • Louis Perret, clerk of court
  • Keith Stutes, district attorney
  • Mark Garber, Lafayette Parish sheriff
  • Charlie Fitzgerald, district court judges  
  • Conrad Comeaux, Lafayette Parish assessor

Other appointees will come from the parish assessor, the City-Parish Council and the LPUA. Mayors of the other Lafayette Parish municipalities will get one collective appointment.

Creating a transition team has been in the air since at least December. A joint team, appointed by the council and the administration, was floated just weeks after the charter amendments passed. The momentum was derailed by the discovery of errors in the charter amendments that drew a legal challenge. The original concept was a 15- to 20-person team with specific carve-outs for private citizens, according to comments from Councilman Jay Castille at the time. LCG Communications Director Cydra Wingerter tells me the mayor-president’s approach with the current structure is to bring to the table parish officials who have budgetary skin in the game.

“The timing is critical,” Councilman Bruce Conque, a charter amendment advocate, tells me, noting that election qualifying is rapidly approaching. The council has its own transition team to handle the logistical considerations internal to the council, things like sorting out office space for 10 council members instead of nine, and so on.

The transition team has a difficult charge — namely, picking apart a consolidated budget that, in many ways, props up a fiscally fragile parish government. Shared costs for shared services will make for thorny conversations.

"The parish fiscal crisis will remain as the parish budget issues can only be expected to remain status quo at best,” Councilman Bruce Conque wrote in an email to parish leaders this week. “I do not envy whoever will be the new mayor-president.”

What to watch for: How quickly the team is seated and whether this is all for naught. We’re playing a tricky game here. Wingerter tells me the consensus view among parish leadership is preparation is paramount, even if there’s a risk that the courts could pause or even throw out the transition to government by separate parish and city councils.

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Former state Rep. Simone Champagne tells political newsletter she’s running for M-P

UPDATE: Paul Eason announced June 12 that he will not run for mayor-president. Read his letter here.

City of Youngsville Chief Administrative Officer Simone Champagne told state politics newsletter LaPolitics she is running for mayor-president of Lafayette. Champagne served as the District 49 representative in the Louisiana House from 2008 to 2014; she was the first and only woman to serve that district (Iberia and Vermilion parishes) in the House.  

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