Against the advice of Lafayette Consolidated Government’s legal department, the City-Parish Council indefinitely deferred hearing appeals by six bar owners facing suspension of their liquor licenses for refusing to pay the special law enforcement tax levied against downtown bars to cover the cost of additional police presence on weekends. Five of the bars — B.E.D., Bootleggers, Karma, The Rabbit Hole and Shakers — were facing one-year suspensions for being several months delinquent in paying the levy. Nitetown was facing a one-month suspension. A seventh establishment facing sanctions, Guamas, has since gone out of business.
Citing a federal lawsuit filed by the bars against LCG — a suit that was actually filed last November, withdrawn, refiled, withdrawn again and finally submitted as a new lawsuit on Jan. 13 — Councilman Brandon Shelvin successfully moved to defer the hearings. The deferrals were approved by a 5-3 vote with Councilmen Shelvin, Kenneth Boudreaux, Andy Naquin and William Theriot voting in favor of deferral and Councilmen Kevin Naquin, Don Bertrand and Keith Patin voting against. Councilman Jay Castille was absent.
So as it stands now, six bars on Jefferson Street have stopped paying their share of the enforcement levy, which is calculated by a bar’s occupancy. Karma, the biggest night club downtown, is charged roughly $5,000 per month. According to information presented at Tuesday’s council meeting, the club stopped paying in June and now owes LCG more than $46,000. Lafayette city taxpayers are evidently swallowing the lost revenue. (We contacted but have yet to hear back from Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley and Police Chief Jim Craft to find out how LCG will handle the levy while the federal lawsuit moves toward resolution.)
At the meeting, LCG attorney Mike Hebert advised the council to move forward with the suspension hearings, telling them that until the ordinance is ruled invalid or unconstitutional by a court, the council should apply the ordinance, which prescribes liquor license suspensions of varying lengths for failure to pay the levy. Hebert said he was also concerned that if a court ultimately rules in LCG’s favor, the government may not be able to enforce the suspensions.
Meanwhile, we contacted one downtown bar owner who has paid the levy all along. He said he’ll continue to do so, but expressed frustration that the situation isn’t resolved and that some of his colleagues — those who have refused to pay the levy and will evidently not have do so while the federal lawsuit works its way toward finality — will reap at least a short-term economic advantage over those following the law.