Saying the parish should live within its means is one thing, but actually cutting millions from a threadbare budget is something else entirely. Parish government now faces the unenviable choice of raising taxes or cutting essential services.
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.
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.
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.
Council Preview: Buildings, sewers, help for the needy, budget cuts and more appointments than you can count
The gist: Tuesday’s agendas are jam-packed, with 130 items across five meetings: the normal city, parish and joint council meetings plus two emergency meetings, one for the parish and one for the joint councils. There’s everything from updates and reports on a range of topics to big next steps on major road and sewer projects, to dozens of appointments to boards and commissions, to making new rules for AirBnBs, to significant budget cuts, and beyond.
The gist: This week’s council meetings include a number of items that will tee up bigger projects and decisions to come affecting everything from sewer capacity and Vermilion flooding to how the budgeting process will work and how parks will operate.
The gist: The city, parish and joint council meetings are relatively uneventful this week, though some moves are in the works on the city budget, bond sales and spending CREATE funds on parish parks.
Regardless of the merit’s of Mayor-President Josh Guillory small business forgivable loan program, the process he’s used doesn’t lead to good policymaking while ignoring our community’s looming housing crisis.
Even if the coronavirus wasn’t causing a global depression, Lafayette’s city and parish general funds would be in rough shape. But now shortfalls in revenue are going to force some painful cuts.
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.
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.
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@example.com. 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.
The gist: This week’s agenda is notable for what’s not on it. The council has blocked from the agenda the mayor-president’s bid to repeal five special taxing districts created in February. Other legislation takes aim at the mayor-president’s authority over council procedures and proclamations. The kumbaya between the new administration and new councils appears to be fading.