|City-Parish President Joey Durel addresses a Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce breakfast crowd Wednesday morning at the Petroleum Club.
Telling a dining room packed with Lafayette business people at the Petroleum Club Wednesday morning that Lafayette is the lowest taxed parish containing a major city in the state of Louisiana, City-Parish President Joey Durel advanced his latest mission: adjusting the way Lafayette Consolidated Government covers expenses in terms of the ratio of city versus parish revenue devoted to those expenses. Durel believes the cost of running LCG should reflect population distribution in the city and the parish; currently the city overwhelmingly bears the load.
Durel also borrowed from Tuesday night’s remarks to the City-Parish Council when he urged the lawmakers to keep property tax millage rates the same as last year, thereby ensuring that LCG revenue keeps pace with inflation so LCG can continue to provide its current level of services to residents.
And the three-term Republican floated the idea of levying, pending voter approval, temporary sales taxes to fund specific projects. He used as an example the planned bridge over the Vermilion River at the South College Drive extension, a project that will have a roughly $30 million price tag.
But it was Durel’s slide presentation highlighting the disparity between the city and parish in terms of covering the cost of operating LCG that monopolized the breakfast presentation. “We all know what drove [the vote to consolidate in the 1990s] was the parish potentially going bankrupt,” Durel said. “What we have done is disguise the truth for the last 16 or 17 years.”
He pointed to a chart showing the city-parish allocation ratio for funding LCG. The first year consolidated government was in operation, 1996-97, the city of Lafayette covered 60 percent of the cost while the parish covered 40 percent. Those figures were commensurate with population distribution at the time: 60 percent of Lafayette Parish residents lived in the city limits of Lafayette; 40 percent lived outside. But even as that population distribution steadily shifted in favor of the parish — Lafayette city residents now make up only about 53 percent of the overall parish population — the city has taken on a great burden in terms of funding LCG. In 2001 the ratio jumped to 82 percent city-18 percent parish. Five years later it jumped another percentage point, 83-17, and in 2009 it rose to its current allocation level. The city of Lafayette now pays 84 percent of the cost of running LCG while the parish pays only 16 percent, even though the non-city population is about 47 percent of the overall parish population.
“This starts with the premise that it is illegal to spend city dollars that city people voted for outside that city. It’s against the law to do that,” Durel said. “You can’t take city dollars from Lafayette and go spend them in New Orleans. ...We can’t take city dollars and go spend them out in the parish because we just feel good about it. That, to me, is huge. This is a big, big deal.”
Durel reiterated his estimate that the city of Lafayette has more or less illegally spent about $35 million on parish projects since consolidated government’s inception. “Can you image how pretty and shiny Lafayette would be if we could spend $35 million cutting grass and cleaning things and painting things and paying our fire- and policemen and that sort of thing? ...Millions and millions of dollars in city taxes that city people voted for to stay in the city didn’t [stay in the city].”
Durel told the audience it’s time for a parishwide discussion on this topic — he indicated that he plans to conducted town hall meetings across the parish for that very purpose — adding that a new company has been hired to study and make recommendations on city-parish allocations. A company representative will address the council on the topic next week.
“The good news is we’re the lowest-taxed city and parish in the state of Louisiana,” Durel said. “The bad news is, you get what you pay for.”
In closing the city-parish allocation portion of his presentation, Durel took aim at the concept of “consolidation” in Lafayette Consolidated Government — the parish and the city keep separate books; LCG is more or less consolidated in name only — and delivered what could be considered a dig at Councilmen Jared Bellard and William Theriot, the reining chairman and vice chairman on the council, whose constituents largely reside outside the city of Lafayette and who consistently votes against the interests of the city: “I’m not going to stand for people outside of my city to vote on the governance of my city," Durel said. "That is un-American. We have the most un-American form of government in America today.”