CREATE

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‘A rare point of consensus’ — both city and parish voters pull the plug on CREATE

The gist: Preserving CREATE was an uphill battle for supporters who staged a social media campaign to urge “no” votes on a ballot proposition to rededicate the property tax that supports the cultural economy initiative. While CREATE was generally thought to be more popular inside city limits than elsewhere in the parish, the rededication push won out decisively across the entire parish. 

5 min read

Parish and city precincts voted “yes” at about the same clip, says Christie Maloyed, a professor of political science at UL. The rededication was supported by 52% of city voters — in effect ending CREATE — compared with 55% of voters elsewhere in the parish. It’s hard to get a clean picture of the breakdown because of the huge turnout of early voters, which are reported without precinct data. But 58% of early voters supported the rededication, which split the $500,000 property tax in two to pay for rural fire protection, and parish roads, bridges and drainage. 

“Anyway you slice it, it looks like a rare point of consensus between the city and the parish,” Maloyed says. 

It’s not uncommon for city voters to behave differently than elsewhere in the parish. A 2018 tax renewal supporting the parish library system was pushed through by overwhelming support from parish voters, while voters in city limits voted to keep the tax in place. The ill-fated school sales tax in 2017 was walloped by parish voters, but city voters broke at higher numbers for the tax. At least a narrow majority of city voters backed Carlee Alm-LaBar over Mayor-President Josh Guillory in 2019. A handful of precincts that straddle city limits throws a little uncertainty into the math. But the sense that city voters and parish voters had different priorities was a key driver of the Fix the Charter campaign that successfully created separate city and parish councils.  

CREATE was born into controversy. Former Mayor-President Joel Robideaux tacked the measure onto a drainage tax, outraging many voters who felt coerced into supporting the cultural economy tax. Parish Council Chairman Kevin Naquin, who advocated for the rededication, says his constituents didn’t reap the benefits of the program and watched it accumulate a fund balance while parish money problems mounted. 

“They’re paying for CREATE and they don’t have anything that’s benefiting from it,” Naquin says. That view inverts a refrain among CREATE supporters that the rededication would tax residents across the parish to pay for a service that only benefits unincorporated Lafayette, two years after voters there defeated a new tax proposed to pay for rural fire service. CREATE did fund some recreation projects in parish parks, but the initiative moved little money on the whole, not just outside city limits.

Saving the CREATE tax may not have saved CREATE. Guillory campaigned on shifting public dollars out of cultural investments, taking particular aim at CREATE. Once he was in office, the program was mothballed and Kate Durio, a Robideaux assistant who ran the initiative, left the administration. Guillory resisted calls to use the $890,000 accumulated in CREATE’s fund balance to plug budget holes that supported signature cultural programs like the Heymann Performing Arts Center and the Lafayette Science Museum. Ultimately, the councils and the administration agreed to use $300,000 in CREATE dollars to soften the budgetary blow on the science museum, which faced insolvency when Guillory stripped it of city funding. 

“I honestly take comfort in the fact that [Guillory] doesn’t have that money to waste,” Durio says. From her vantage point, the odds of survival were stacked against the program, which she maintains was still in its infancy. Faced with a hardening political message in local government that culture and recreation are not worth funding with public dollars, CREATE was swimming upstream, she says. Durio mostly expected the result. 

“I’m surprised that many people voted ‘no,’” she says. 

What happens now? Seventy percent of the CREATE millage will now fund rural fire protection. The other 30% will chip away at a parish infrastructure backlog in the tens of millions of dollars. About $500,000 of the CREATE balance remains, Parish Councilman Josh Carlson says, and there are no immediate plans for what to do with it. Naquin, meanwhile, is on a mission to shore up parish finances overall. He tabled a measure to propose a small parishwide sales tax to help parish government claw its way into financial stability. Naquin argues the funding pulled from CREATE, while small, will make a meaningful difference in improving fire ratings in the unincorporated areas. Both Naquin, a musician, and Carlson, who served on the Heymann Center board, push back on the assertion that ending CREATE is an assault on the arts. Given the dire financial situation in the parish budget, Carlson says, every bit counts. 

No, this doesn’t solve everything. But $500,000 goes a long way when there is very little money to begin with,” Carlson says. 

What to watch for? Whether private dollars do step in where public investment recedes. Guillory telegraphed a shift away from government funding for cultural programs, signing a pledge with arch-conservative backers to carve “nonessential” spending out of the budget, and that goes well beyond CREATE. But with the economy still broadly depressed by the pandemic, private dollars may not be able to pick up the tab.

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COLUMN: Don’t rededicate CREATE to restricted uses. We need that money in the general fund.

At a time of incredible economic and financial uncertainty, the parish council can’t afford to rededicate CREATE’s millage to any other dedicated fund. Instead what’s needed is flexibility to navigate an uncertain future, which is why this millage should be redirected to the parish general fund.

4 min read
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Category: News + Notes

Council Preview: Rededicating CREATE, refinancing bonds, re-litigating taxing districts, reorganizing boards and more

The gist: After canceling their April 7 meetings, Lafayette’s city and parish councils are back in session Tuesday with jam-packed agendas that include refinancing hundreds of millions in bonds, reorganizing more than a dozen boards and commissions, rededicating the CREATE millage, and more. They’ll also be trying out a new system for citizens to call in to make comments while city hall remains closed to the public because of coronavirus.

5 min read

Calling an election to rededicate CREATE tax. If approved, this resolution would put a public vote on the presidential ballot to rededicate the $500,000 property tax for CREATE — a cultural economy initiative passed by the previous administration — to rural fire protection and parish roads and bridges. That would increase funding for fire protection in unincorporated Lafayette by $350,000 and for roads and bridges by $150,000. 

$360 million in bond refinancing. The finance department is looking to refinance bonds to take advantage of low interest rates and get ahead of the likelihood that Lafayettes’s bond ratings will fall because of the snowballing recession’s impact on LCG’s tax revenue. Lower bond ratings mean higher interest rates, a cost that would be passed on to taxpayers and LUS ratepayers. The resolutions would allow the administration to approach the state bond commission. 

$41 million in new debt to backstop the government. That’s $36 million for the city and $5 million for the parish. While the city and parish may not need to use this new debt, LCG Chief Financial Officer Lorrie Toups wants the loan in place if either entity’s tax revenues fall so much that they need the money to pay the bills.

The joint councils will introduce ordinances to reorganize 14 boards and commissions. These changes are a result of splitting the consolidated council into two. Part of that process is reorganizing all of the local boards and commissions the councils have authority over to reflect this new structure. Here’s a list of all the boards and commissions on the docket:

  •     Lafayette Advisory Commission on Crime Prevention
  •     Downtown Management Committee
  •     Heymann Performing Arts Center and Frem F. Boustany Convention Center Advisory Commission
  •     Lafayette Parish Convention and Visitors Commission
  •     People’s Safety Initiative
  •     Lafayette Economic Development Authority 
  •     Lafayette Parish Bayou Vermilion District
  •     Lafayette Parish Library Board of Control
  •     Lafayette Natural History Museum and Planetarium Commission
  •     Lafayette Metropolitan Expressway Commission
  •     Evangeline Thruway Redevelopment Team
  •     Lafayette Preservation Commission
  •     Lafayette City-Parish President’s Awareness Committee for Citizens with Disabilities
  •     Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board

The joint councils will also look at revising rules to encourage bringing adjudicated properties back into commerce. The first change would remove the prohibition against including rental in property renovation plans. The second change would remove the $500 fee nonprofits have to pay to apply to take over an adjudicated property.

The city council will consider moving money around to pay for the $1.5 million loan to the Bottle Arts Lofts project. Rather than coming out of the city’s general fund, this money would be paid for out of the University Avenue Initiative in the city’s capital fund. This $1.5 million is structured as a 40-year zero interest loan to private developers to help pay for the costs of turning the old Coca-Cola bottling plant on Cameron Street into rent-controlled artist lofts.

Who do city-parish attorneys represent? City Councilman Pat Lewis has asked for a briefing on the legal department’s obligations to the council. The discussion item stems in part from a conflict over the future of the recently passed special taxing districts that are the subject of a lawsuit filed against the city of Lafayette. Last week, the legal department withdrew a motion filed in the case to defend the districts. Mayor-President Josh Guillory opposes the EDDs, which appear to still have strong support on the city council.

At issue is whose interests city-parish attorneys are required to represent. According to Lewis, the question is about more than just these special taxing districts that pit the mayor against the council. Lewis wants to know how future disagreements between the mayor-president and city or parish councils, or between the councils themselves, will move forward when legal obstacles arise. This is a particularly pressing issue as the councils head into what was already likely to be a contentious budget cycle, with the parties working through figuring out who’s legally obligated to pay for what.

If you want to participate in these council meetings, there’s a new stay-at-home protocol. If you don’t want to speak but do want to submit your support for or opposition to an agenda item, email [email protected] In that email, identify which council meeting agenda (city or parish), which agenda item number, your name, and your position for or against. If you do want to speak, call 337-291-8428 between 2 p.m. tomorrow and the time that the agenda item you want to comment on is introduced. Leave a voicemail with your name, call back number, and the agenda item you want to comment on and they’ll call you back once the agenda item is read. The five-minute limit on comments will still apply.

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Category: Election 2019, News + Notes

Robideaux’s scant campaign funds should tempt a challenger 

The gist: Robideaux has about $43,000 in his war chest, according to The Advocate. At this point during his 2015 bid for office, he had $335,000. He’s widely seen as vulnerable to a challenge, a somewhat rare occurrence for an incumbent mayor in Lafayette.

3 min read

Robideaux says he’s been working, not campaigning. Side-stepping the implication that he can’t get the taps flowing. Indeed, it is somewhat early to draw anything conclusive from the numbers. We’ll see another report soon, and Robideaux told The Advocate’s Claire Taylor he expects to raise the money he needs in short order.

“To my friends in the media, thanks for the advice. I’ll get right on it,” Robideaux replied in a clapback posted to his Facebook page. (Campaign staffers often post on his behalf; it’s unclear if Robideaux authored the statement himself.) The mayor-president has been in a spat with the media lately, freezing out reporters who have been hard on him. He pushed back at the “criticism” and spun it as proof positive of his efforts as mayor-president. “The simple fact is (and a lot of people don’t get this about me) — I’m not a politician at heart,” the statement reads.

Lack of money doesn’t necessarily indicate a lack of support, a local political operative tells me, rather a lack of campaigning. That backs up Robideaux’s defense. But the operative says it is indeed odd for an incumbent to have spent so little time fundraising. Articles like The Advocate’s, he says, raise reasonable questions of political strength. Put simply, whatever the reason, having no money in the bank shows a weakness that could tantalize opposition.

“He has not had an incident-free tenure,” UL political scientist Pearson Cross told The Advocate. He’s pointing out that Robideaux’s lack of ground game is odd given his recent controversies.

Saying his tenure is not “incident-free” is something of an understatement. In the last two years, Robideaux has found a way to alienate voters of all stripes. Progressives are angry about his escalation of the drama around Drag Queen Story Time and then trying to raid the library’s fund balance while accusing its directors of deception. Conservatives remain skeptical of CREATE, an initiative they characterize as a slush fund, and the cynical tactics Robideaux used to pass it. Outrage was community-wide upon discovery of his backchannel pursuit of privatizing management of LUS. Now his administration is mired in questions of ethics and transparency related to a suspect loan obtained by one of his aides.

In short, Robideaux has built a platform for his eventual challenger. And most believe he will draw one.

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