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.
The gist: Total assessed property values in Lafayette Parish have fallen for the first time in decades, further compounding shortfalls in consolidated government’s upcoming budget. Linking the declines to economic fallout from the pandemic, Lafayette Parish Tax Assessor Conrad Comeaux said Thursday at a budget hearing 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.
Lafayette’s roads suck and both our city and parish budgets are in disarray. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do something about this problem. We just need to reprioritize maintaining the infrastructure we already have.
Political discourse in Lafayette has veered so far off the rails that we can’t even agree on the basics. And now we have a whole host of thorny issues that we have to unpack while splitting one council into two.
When the Buchanan Street parking garage was condemned last October, it caused a series of problems Downtown. There have been complaints on social media of courthouse employees feeling unsafe walking longer distances to their cars at night, of defendants being late for trials because it takes so much time to find parking, and of businesses losing patrons who don’t have easy access to street parking now that a couple hundred extra cars are competing for spots.
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.
The gist: Mayor-President Joel Robideaux wants to move $18 million in library funds to roads and drainage projects. Councilman Bruce Conque, however, offered a compromise in a press release this morning, suggesting Robideaux take $10 million, leaving $16 million in the library’s fund balance after ongoing projects are complete.
Conque argues Robideaux’s proposal leaves the library without much wiggle room given it lost $3.2 million in annual revenue when one of its three millages failed last year. Revenues will dip from $12 million to under $9 million when the millage rolls off this year. Should library expenses remain at the current level, around $12.8 million annually, it will start running a deficit in the next fiscal year.
“We can part with some of it,” Andrew Duhon, vice president of the library board of control, tells me. “The amount the mayor-president wants is inappropriate.” Conque said in the press release that library leadership is on board with his counter-offer. The council must approve putting the rededication measure before voters.
Let’s see what happens in 2022. That’s the essence of Conque’s compromise. A $4.5 million property tax renewal is on the block that year. There was a time when library taxes were considered untouchable; now it’s hardly a given that voters will support the remaining millages. Should the millage fail, the library could be set up for long-term hardship, the councilman says. Conque is concerned the $8 million fund balance that would remain if Robideaux’s proposal is approved by voters is insufficient to cover the costs of planned expansions, at the Clifton Chenier Center and the North Regional Library, and lost revenue.
“Is that the best use of the money, to hang onto it for whenever we need to do those expansions?” Robideaux asked in a report in The Daily Advertiser. “Or is it more important to look at what else we can do with that money?”
“This is not something we dreamed up yesterday,” Duhon says of the expansion plans, saying Robideaux never talked with library leadership before he announced the idea. “These things should be discussed,” he tells me.
Where will the money go? That’s still unclear. Robideaux told The Advertiser he’ll announce the projects before the voters go to the polls. LCG recently took an $18 million cash advance from general fund dollars on a $30 million bond package to pay for street and drainage projects.
What to watch for: Whether other council members sign on to Conque’s compromise, which will be offered as an amendment to Robideaux’s resolution on Tuesday. The council will vote then to send the proposition to voters in May. Councilmen Kevin Naquin, Jared Bellard and William Theriot have co-sponsored Robideaux’s resolution to rededicate $18 million.
Council members and the administration are at odds on how to fix the parish budget.
A living room conversation with columnist Geoff Daily. He talks Lafayette’s dire economic situation, how we got here and whether we can get out.