A long-running squabble between Lafayette and Vermilion parishes could get new life beginning Tuesday when the Lafayette City-Parish Council votes on rejecting a 2003 State Land Office survey that was supposed to finally establish the border between the two parishes. The rejection is virtually a fait accompli: seven of the nine member of the council are co-authors of the ordinance.
What's on the line (!) is about 600 acres (less important) that, according to the State Land office, are in Vermilion Parish. Also at stake are the current and future tax revenues (bingo!) that go along with it. The acreage is a mix of undeveloped agricultural land and residences. Those residents pay property taxes to Vermilion Parish. Lafayette Parish wants their money.
Lafayette and Vermilion parishes were separated by legislative act in 1884, but the border has long been in dispute.
Lafayette Councilman Don Bertrand is one of the co-authors of the ordinance rejecting the State Land Office’s parish line. He argues that Lafayette can prove the line is incorrect based on surveys by the same office that predate the 1844 legislative act establishing the parish lines. That’s when Vermilion and Lafayette became separate parishes.
“This evidence has never been allowed to be produced — either in court or in front of the council or in front of the public,” Bertrand says. “And my question is why are willing to give away property in the smallest parish in Louisiana if we can show it should be according to the legislative act of 1844?”
Good question, especially when tax revenue is involved. But Bertrand says it’s about more than just who’s paying what to whom right now. “It’s not just what’s there today; it’s what’s there down the road,” the south Lafayette Republican says. “It would affect where people pay their taxes. It would affect where kids go to school — where federal dollars go to schools; what roads and infrastructure fall underneath the jurisdiction of what parish.”
The dispute probably wouldn’t be dispute at all but for some late 20th century political jockeying — 1999 to be exact — when then-Lafayette Councilman Lenwood Broussard challenged opponent Linda Duhon’s candidacy. Duhon had been voting and paying taxes in Lafayette Parish for years, but a district court judge ruled that, in fact, she had been living in Vermilion Parish the whole time. The ruling disqualified Duhon for the Lafayette election. It also galvanized Duhon who theretofore had (for all intents and purposes) been a Lafayette Parish resident to file a federal lawsuit challenging the location of the border. That suit against the State Land Office is still pending.
The ordinance, assuming it passes introduction Tuesday night, will go before the council for a final vote two weeks later. Bertrand says he hopes Lafayette and Vermilion can amicably settle on a proper border after that, although there’s little evidence the Vermilion Parish Police Jury would agree to cede land — and the current and future tax revenue that go along with it — to Lafayette. Ultimately this dispute might wind up in court.
“I believe we can show the best evidence of the 1844 boundary on the west side and that by agreement we can resolve this with Vermilion to where that line is,” Bertrand says. “And then we research the eastern side using the same forensic surveying technique and we set the east side as well, based on the best evidence, not by arbitrary decision. And we move on.”
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