By a 7-2 vote the Lafayette City-Parish Council Tuesday approved an introductory ordinance granting Lafayette Utilities System a rate increase. If approved for final adoption at the Feb. 2 council meeting, the 7.5 percent increase over two years would go into effect the same month.
Earlier, as anticipated, the Lafayette Public Utilities Authority, which comprises the five council members whose districts are majority city, voted 3-2 in favor of the rate hike. In both cases, councilmen Brandon Shelvin (District 3) and Kenneth Boudreaux (District 4) voted against the rate increase. LPUA chair Sam Dore, who switched his vote from an ordinance-killing nay in December to a yeah Tuesday, has said he wants to amend the ordinance to possibly spread the rate increase out over a longer period of time to make it more feasible for low-income residents.
Several Lafayette residents addressed the council on the proposal. Opposition to it was 6-1 by members of the community. During the council discussion phase leading up to the vote by the full council, Boudreaux managed to get LUS Director Terry Huval to agree to consider adjustments to the rate increase based on possible cuts to LUS’ current budget. Huval, however, refused to hedge on reducing the number of employees at power plants or forgoing equipping the LUS fleet with GPS tracking.
“Even a minor savings is a great savings, and that’s where I’ve been trying to get to,” Boudreaux said after prodding Huval on possible budget savings ahead of a final adoption of the rate increase. The rate hike is designed to generate an additional $26 million in LUS revenue, $22 million of which is earmarked for LUS’ mandated contribution to an upgrade of the power grid the public utility shares with SLEMCO and other area providers.
Tuesday's vote should not, however, been seen as a bellwether for the final-adoption vote next month; council members who voted in favor of the increase on Tuesday could still change their minds, and Shelvin and Boudreaux are unlikely to cede their position.
In other council business, an amendment to the ordinance governing revenue generated from the red-light and speed van camera program was shot down by a 6-3 vote. The ordinance by Boudreaux would have expanded the council’s discretion in spending the revenue to include other traffic- and public-safety programs. Since the speed calming program’s inception in November 2007, roughly $3.3 million has been generated. Boudreaux was joined by Shelvin and Castille in voting for the measure.
The council also approved ordinances declaring three bridge replacement projects — Chemin Metairie, Industrial Parkway and Vincent Road — public necessities and clearing the way for acquiring or even expropriating adjacent land if necessary.