Calling it “the most challenging of the seven budgets I have sent to the council for consideration,” City-Parish President Joey Durel Thursday unveiled a 2010-2011 budget that totals roughly $610 million dollars and includes notable new commitments to Lafayette’s cultural and recreational life — chief among them are LCG’s purchase of the horse farm and increased funding for the Acadiana Center for Arts.

Under Durel’s plan, LCG would set aside $500,000 for the next 10 years to cover most of the cost of purchasing the 100-acre horse farm property off Johnston Street from UL in a deal that includes LCG swapping Youth Park near campus for the horse farm, which is expected to appraise for around $5.7 million; Youth Park’s anticipated appraised value is approximately $500,000. LCG would pay UL the difference between the two appraisals to acquire the horse farm, which, through a cooperative endeavor agreement, would be developed and maintained as a city park by the nonprofit Community Foundation of Acadiana.

Durel also indicated that he envisions Lafayette Police Department’s equine patrol unit to be housed at the park and connecting the Horse Farm to Girard Park via a bike trail.

“This acquisition benefits our entire population and will help us attract people and business to our community, while aiding our great university financially so that it can continue to drive the economy through research and education within Louisiana and beyond,” Durel added. “I assure you that future generations ... will thank you for having the vision and foresight to preserve this unique property forever.”

Acknowledging that LCG owns upwards of $100 million in arts and cultural facilities, Durel’s budget also allocates $285,000 in operating funds for the AcA, which in October will open a $10 million theater expansion. “This is more than a quality of life issue,” he told the council. “This is an economic development issue. We cannot turn our back on this investment, especially at a time when the economy is difficult.”

Durel also noted that LCG’s share for payments into retirement systems is set to rise substantially: $2.8 million in additional funding for police and fire pensions, plus an additional $933,000 for other LCG employees. Durel proposes offsetting those increased liabilities through a reduction in the LCG workforce by eliminating positions that have been open for a few years.

“These [state] mandated expenses for the pension boards must be budgeted along with the decrease in revenues,” Durel said. “Consequently, I am proposing the use of fund balance to make up some of the difference, but it is still not possible to balance the budget without substantial cuts. After lengthy meetings with department directors, CAO Dee Stanley and CFO Becky Lalumia, I am recommending the elimination of 23 vacant positions for an annual savings of $1,112,321. I am assured that these reductions will not affect the services provided to the public by any of the departments where cuts have been implemented.”

The council will hammer out the budget during a series of special meetings that conclude  Sept. 30 with votes on a final budget. The fiscal year runs from Nov. 1 to Oct. 31.

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