The cost of operating local government is increasing faster than the revenue it takes in through property and sales taxes. We see this born out in the budget City-Parish President Joey Durel submitted to the City-Parish Council in July — a budget the council is currently considering and one that is peppered with cuts to several departments within Lafayette Consolidated Government.
The council on Tuesday night will have an opportunity begin rectifying the disparity between the cost of operating government and lagging revenue by voting to keep the tax rates levied on property in both the city of Lafayette and the unincorporated parts of the parish the same. But it will take a two-thirds majority to make that happen.
Property values are up in Lafayette — just under 5.5 percent both in the city and the parish (read Heather Miller's blog today on that topic here)— as residents will soon begin finding out via letters from Assessor Conrad Comeaux. If the council votes to keep millage rates the same that’ll mean a more than 5 percent uptick in revenue through property taxes. However, state law requires local governments to roll back millage rates when property value assessments rise so that local government takes in no more than it did the year before. But the law also allows councils through the vote of a super majority to keep the millages the same and effectively allow taxes to rise with inflation.
According to LCG Chief Financial Officer Lorrie Toups in a memo to Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley, the taxable value of property in the unincorporated part of Lafayette Parish is up 5.27 percent over 2011 — from just over $1.6 billion last year to 2012’s $1.73 billion. For the city the value rose 5.32 percent — from $1.2 billion to just under $1.3 billion.
As Toups points out in the memo:
It is critical that we take this opportunity to adjust these dedicated revenues to the rates originally approved by the voters because of the current growth in demands for our services. In most cases, the existing dedicated millage rates do not provide sufficient revenues to meet the cost of the dedicated services. For the same reasons that we periodically adjust utility rates to equal cost-of-service, these rates need adjustment to more closely meet costs. As rates are moved closer to actual cost, the general fund subsidy for these purposes can be reduced and applied to general operating purposes as intended.
Simply put, if the council doesn’t vote to keep the millage rates the same, the cost of operating LCG — and the services it provides to residents — will continue to outpace the revenue local government is taking in, making a tight budget situation even tighter moving forward.
But for some council members — the self-styled “fiscal hawks” — that’s a good thing as it will allow them to continue their annual assault on such budgetary "extravagances" as funding external social service agencies, festivals and the arts. Consequently, sources close to the council tell The Ind these tax votes could be a tedious process as ideological imperatives regarding taxation bubble to the surface. Will the Tea Party-backed councilmen vote to keep tax rates the same, which in effect is to raise taxes? Will the councilmen representing Lafayette’s most economically strapped districts vote to roll back the millage rates, thereby ensuring that LCG’s revenue stream through property taxes doesn’t increase, which will affect the level of service provided by LCG in the future?
More important, from the perspective of many city residents who voted for deconsolidation last year and even those who voted against but recognize the need for the city to have more autonomy in its financial affairs, will city folk catch a whiff of the foul odor created by council members who don’t live in the city of Lafayette and pay no city of Lafayette property taxes voting on tax rates paid by city residents — taxes, in other words, that don’t apply to them?
MAY 17 Here's a column from James Gill, this time in the Advocate. Gill, who has jumped ship from the Picayune, writes about the absurdity of dueling polls in this post. The numbers are so wildly different, it is obvious that both sides are "cooking the books," he writes. In particular, he looks at Sen. Mary Landrieu, and how her recent actions in DC have been received by those polled. Gill's acerbic, amusing prose is a welcome addition to a paper so conservative as to be occasionally lacking in personality.
MAY 17 Blogger Tom Aswell continues delivering bombshells about the state education department and Gov. Jindal's education "reform" efforts. In this post, he reports that students in the Shreveport area have been signed up for a charter school without their knowledge or consent. Most interesting to Aswell is how this Texas-based charter (with ties to GOP types) got the personal student information it has, if the students didn't give it.
MAY 17 This post by JR Ball in the Baton Rouge Business Report is an interesting tongue-in-cheek look at recent Baton Rouge economic development efforts. Among the items he examines is the idea that gaining a Costco makes BR a "world-class city." (Really? All you need is a different brand of Sam's? MK!) This effort, and other recent ones, are all built on the taxpayer's back, with tax zones, tax incentives and tax rebates, Ball writes.
MAY 17 Blogger CB Forgotston is critical of the legislature's reliance on a revenue-estimating committee's decision to include projected tax amnesty income in this year's forecast. That's a problem, CB posts, because the deadline for these people to pay their taxes is June 30, 2014. So when do you think these people who haven't paid taxes in years are going to pay their taxes? Surely not before June 30, and that means the money won't be there for this year's budget, he argues.
MAY 17 Here's an interesting blog out of California by a Hollywood writer, attorney and academic named Brian Alan Lane. He blogs about higher ed, and was a whistle-blower in a scandal over false credentials. In this post, he takes aim at LSU's new top dog, King Alexander. It's convoluted and a little confusing, but it sure makes Alexander a lot more interesting than he was yesterday.
MAY 17 Blogger Robert Mann writes about the LSU Board's refusal to allow Dr. Fred Cerise to testify before the legislature about Gov. Jindal's plan to close down all the state's charity hospitals and dump the poor on the private system. It's hard to imagine anyone more qualified than Cerise to testify about that, so why would anyone try to prevent him doing so? Mann thinks it is because the powers that be aren't interested in hearing any truth about the plan.
MAY 17 This post on the Louisiana Sinkhole Bugle, a blog that notes developments in the Bayou Corne and Jefferson Island salt domes, talks about a proposed expansion of the salt dome storage under Lake Peigneur in Iberia Parish. Residents are working against it for several reasons, including two biggies: the sinkhole disaster in Bayou Corne and the continuing, unexplained bubbling on the surface of the Lake.
MAY 17 NOLA police arrested more people Thursday accused of either being involved in the Mother's Day shooting or hiding the suspect afterward, this Gambit story reports. The NOLA police chief said he suspects the whole thing was gang-related and throws out a challenge to the gangs: he's got informants now, he says, and he knows a lot more than the gangs want him to know. The people who live in the neighborhoods terrorized by gangs are ready to talk, he says.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
Is it a crime for citizens to photograph, video, or take notes of a police officer in the line of duty, or a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? Locally, such activity, as witnessed recently, will at the very least result in a night spent behind bars.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.