Post-Katrina rises in construction costs have helped contribute to about a $150 million shortage of funds for road and drainage projects. Meanwhile, health care and retirement cost increases have helped eat into pay-as-you-go capital for annual needs like police cars and fire trucks. And following a year in which Lafayette experienced unprecedented growth due to two devastating hurricanes, Durel said Lafayette can now expect even less help from the cash-strapped state or federal government.
"We have questions to ask ourselves about Lafayette Parish," he said. "Are we going to let the unnatural growth we experienced control our future or are we going to take control of it ourselves? What do we want for our future? What are the priorities?"
The post-hurricane environment is inspiring some out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to local government's revenue options. At the mayor's prompting, several historically anti-tax groups are grappling with taxes like never before.
"My sense is that, post-Katrina, given all the needs that are out there, there's a better reception [to raising taxes] than there was pre-storm," says Donna Landry, chairman of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. "Is it good enough to tilt the scale from anti-tax to pro-tax? I think the jury's still out. But the most encouraging thing to me and the chamber leadership, I think, is that today's conversation poses multiple options."
On March 15, at a joint meeting of its transportation and government affairs committees, the chamber is scheduled to look at multiple local tax options that could provide a new revenue stream for building more roads to ease traffic congestion. The committees plan to study a variety of options, ranging from traditional property and sales taxes to a possible local gasoline tax, housing development fees and Tax Incremental Financing programs.
Landry says most people within the chamber leadership share the two premises set forth by the mayor: that Lafayette has a number of needs and that the state government is less dependable for those needs than ever before.
"I think generally speaking people have crossed the first two hurdles," Landry adds, "and now they're standing on the precipice of the cliff going, 'OK, so if we say we have all these needs and we trust ourselves to come up with it, what's the most acceptable or least uncomfortable way to do it?' And that's where we're at."
While she stops short of saying the chamber is leaning toward supporting an increase in local taxes, she acknowledges she has not heard any solutions that don't involve some form of taxation.
"Just the fact that there are multiple options on the table is progress," she re-iterates. "It's a conversation that has to happen."
The Republican Parish Executive Committee is also meeting this week to discuss funding options for transportation. Committee member Don Bertrand says that although the party is typically opposed to taxes, many local Republicans are open to taxes that remain local, as opposed to going to Baton Rouge.
"Lafayette has historically been progressive in that way," he says. "If the investment was going into the community, they're more likely to tax themselves."
One of the more popular options, a local gas tax, may ultimately prove to be impossible. The Louisiana Constitution prohibits municipalities from taxing gasoline. A change in the constitution would require approval from the state Legislature and a statewide election.
Already, three advisory committees within Lafayette city-parish government have adopted a resolution asking the state Legislature to allow municipalities more options for local taxes, including a local gas tax, to fund transportation needs. The resolution should come before the city-parish council next month.
Bill Fenstermaker, president of engineering firm C.H. Fenstermaker & Associates, says a local gas tax would be the best way to fund transportation improvements, but he's open to other possibilities.
"As a person who is normally a negative tax person," he says, "I would hope that provided the monies are committed to arterial infrastructure projects, that if [local government] can't get the money any other way, that they ought to propose some form of taxation to make it happen."
Fenstermaker, an active Republican and past chamber chairman, says as much as he frowns on paying more taxes, he envisions the alternative ' where traffic gets more congested and stymies development ' could be worse.
"[If] we think the traffic is bad today, we should have worried about this five to 10 years ago," he says. "So five years from now it should be pretty unbearable. So yes, I think that the business community especially, and all of the community, should worry about it and put it as a high priority."
Another prominent local Republican promoting a more pro-active approach to the parish's growth is Tax Assessor Conrad Comeaux.
"People don't like to talk about taxes," he says. "Unfortunately, it's just a fact of life that somehow you have to pay for growth. This has been neglected for too long, and now we're paying the cost. Traffic is only going to get worse and worse."
Comeaux watched several parish property taxes drop over the past decade while Lafayette continued to grow. Under the previous city-parish administration headed by Walter Comeaux, several millage taxes dedicated to infrastructure improvements including roads, drainage and the parish courthouse were reduced. And due to laws that lock in property tax rates after five years, it would now require an election to roll millages back up to their previous levels.
All told, Comeaux shows how the parish could have collected $17.2 million more in infrastucture-related taxes had it not rolled back millage rates. He says this money could have gone a long way in helping to deal with some of the issues currently facing the parish.
"People want [government] to roll down millages," he says. "But look what happens. You can't keep up with the increases in costs of health care, construction, pay, retirement, everything that goes into running local services.
"If you just keep sweeping things under the rug," he adds, "pretty soon you're going to have a pretty big pile under the rug that you're going to be tripping over, and unfortunately that's what this administration is facing."
Comeaux is already looking ahead to six millage taxes set to expire over the next two years. He is advocating that all of these taxes ' and any possible increase that local government may want to consider ' be put on the ballot this year. He warns that renewing these taxes could get more complicated next year when city-parish councilmen and school board members are up for re-election.
For now, Durel is still weighing the options. In addition to exploring a local gas tax, he wants to see if Lafayette can leverage local funds for more federal dollars ' capitalizing on the state's inability to come up with its own matching funds for grant money.
"Until I satisfy myself with some things I'm just not ready to go to the tax thing," he says. "I'm not excited about raising taxes, but I'll do what the community asks me to do."
Following up on his state of the parish address, Durel has been touring the parish to speak with community and business groups over the next two months about what their priorities are.
"The feedback is pretty consistent," Durel says. "Lafayette has a strong history of not depending on other people to move it forward. That's the mood that I'm getting from people, is that we can't sit back and wait for the state."
Despite sweeping changes enacted by Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration, the health insurance program for state workers and public school employees will have to use $88 million from its reserve fund to cover its costs this year.
The LPSB races are sure to get heated between now and Nov. 4, and with only 9 available seats, this year's field of 20 candidates will surely be wanting to set themselves apart from the crowd early; they'll get their chance next week, starting Tuesday with the kick-off of a three-day series of candidate forums.
Lawmakers say they've received complaints that waits have spiked, with people being forced to wait in line for more than an hour — and sometimes three hours — to handle routine tasks.
The campaign announced that Rep. Stuart Bishop of District 43 and Nancy Landry, District 31, have thrown their support behind the Naval Academy graduate and entrepreneur in his bid to unseat current Hunter Beasley in District 8.
A Lafayette man with an alleged taste for child porn was busted Thursday evening during a cyber crime sting launched by the Attorney General’s Office.
U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister says his chief of staff is on temporary leave after being booked with drunken driving.
It was a rare moment in Congress this week as Republicans briefly put aside partisanship in support of President Barack Obama's request to train and arm Syrian rebels, and while a number of Democrats opposed the measure, Louisiana's Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu found herself on the same side of the issue as her Republican challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy.
Home Depot breach bigger than Target; Alibaba IPO could be big; Rivers' last project and more national and international news for Friday, September 19, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
City-Parish President Joey Durel is asking the council to sign off on a resolution approving a pair of deals that would lead to razing the seedy Lesspay Motel at Four Corners to build a new police substation as well as transforming nearly a block Downtown where the old federal courthouse building now molders into a mixed-use development.
In 2013, the IRS — already the least popular governmental agency in the country — became the target of intense investigations after it was revealed that they had specifically and improperly scrutinized applications for tax-exempt status from organizations associated with the nascent Tea Party movement.
Improving the running game was "a point of emphasis" during the offseason and the results have manifested themselves in the form of substantially greater production.
Louisiana's health department said Wednesday that its evaluation of the state's Medicaid privatization was on target, despite criticism from the legislative auditor that it lacked key data and contained inconsistencies.
The feds converge on your office, seizing records on several employees as part of a pay-for-plea investigation. WWYD? If you’re Mike Harson, you give yourself a $12k raise.
It’s football season and after back-to-back winless weekends for the Saints and the Cajuns many citizens are finding it difficult to be civil much less happy. Well, chew on this.
Considering his repeated stays in the local penal system, David Narcisse Jr. should have known that having a semiautomatic shotgun, even one given to him by a friend, wasn’t the brightest of ideas.
A state district judge on Tuesday threw out a last-minute retirement hike lawmakers gave to the state police superintendent, ending a political firestorm over a pension boost passed without public scrutiny on the last day of the legislative session.
The House has passed a bill to increase oversight of veterans' hospitals under construction, following a report that some medical centers take three years longer to complete than estimated and cost an extra $366 million per project.
An obvious follow-up question for any Republican politician who accuses Democrats of being science deniers is one about science, to which Jindal bobbed and weaved like a welterweight champ.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council is expected to decide tonight (Tuesday) whether to go along with a proposal City-Parish President Joey Durel made in February’s State of the Parish Address and consolidate taxes for mosquito control and the parish health units into a broader tax program that would also cover animal control.
U.S. District Judge Richard Haik has dismissed Greg Davis’ lawsuit against the LPSB, yet in his ruling, the federal judge doesn’t bite his tongue in pointing out the "threat" being posed by certain board members.
Of all the political offices being contested throughout Lafayette Parish, the race for Broussard’s top police post has literally become one of the most heated.
A state district judge is deciding whether to issue an injunction against the enforcement of a last-minute retirement hike that lawmakers gave to the state police superintendent.
A new website is up for Louisiana's state government employees and retirees to choose their health insurance plans for next year, a choice they must make by October.
That fact that New Orleans led both games in the final 10 seconds of regulation, and lost each by a field goal or less, is of little solace.