|Foster Park (center) comprises two baseball fields, tennis courts and soccer/football fields adjacent to Green T. Lindon Elementary School (upper left) in the city of Youngsville. The city of Lafayette has been paying for the park's maintenance.|
The Lafayette City-Parish Council shot down Tuesday night by an 8-2 vote an ordinance that would have transferred the lease for a public park commonly used for youth sports activities to the city of Youngsville where the park is located. The introductory ordinance was also shot down by the council in mid October amid concerns by dissenting councilmen that there are no guarantees the acreage will remain a park for youth athletics once Youngsville controls it. Discussion Tuesday centered largely around the same issue.
But here’s the rub — and incontrovertible evidence if there ever were that consolidation has been a heavy mantle for the city of Lafayette: since consolidated government went into effect in 1996, city of Lafayette property tax payers have been footing the bill for maintenance of a park located in the city limits of Youngsville. Let’s say it again together: since consolidated government went into effect in 1996, city of Lafayette property tax payers have been footing the bill for maintenance of a park located in the city limits of Youngsville.
Remind me again what’s right about that? (In fairness, it does appear that Youngsville chipped in some of the maintenance costs at Foster Park for a time, but hasn't in several years.)
The park was built in 1975 by the Lafayette Parish Police Jury, a precursor to Lafayette Parish Government, which merged with the city of Lafayette by a parishwide vote in 1992 and in 1996 became Lafayette Consolidated Government. But the Parks & Recreation department has long been bankrolled by a property tax paid only by city of Lafayette property owners. The acreage on which the park is located is leased from Young Industries. It’s impossible to tell in the LCG budget what the terms of the lease are — one councilman tells us he believes it’s a nominal annual amount on the order of $1 and was more or less donated to the police jury by the Young family as a community service — other than the life of the lease is 50 years, meaning it expires in 2025.
Youngsville wants to acquire the park, which is adjacent to Green T. Lindon Elementary School, to use a portion of it to accommodate an expansion of the bursting-at-the-seams public school — mainly for playground and parking space. Youngsville meanwhile is offering assurances that the park will remain a hub for the Broussard Youngsville Youth Association, the nonprofit group that sponsors “city-league” sports leagues such as baseball and football.
This issue cuts to the heart of the raw deal the city of Lafayette inflicted on itself when its voters were the overwhelming factor in approving consolidation in 1992. We’re all in this together, we said. But we’re not, in reality, all in this together. The city of Lafayette shoulders an undue share of the burden in propping up parish government compared to the other municipalities in the parish. And the Parks & Rec issue is a glaring example. Everyone in the parish uses the municipal golf courses, yet they are maintained at great expense by a paltry millage approved in the early 1960s and paid for entirely by the city of Lafayette.
This is one of many examples why the city of Lafayette needs to regain the autonomy it lost when it happily staggered into the quagmire known as LCG. The city, through a majority of its representation on the council, attempted this year to steer us toward that autonomy via an ordinance that would have created a new charter commission which likely would have recommended redrawing council districts in such a way that the city would be guaranteed a 5-seat majority on the council and, consequently, created a “city council” within the City-Parish Council. But the current council, led by councilmen who represent very few city of Lafayette residents, and joined inexplicably by the councilman whose district is entirely within the city of Lafayette, nixed the measure.
Foster Park is a radiating example of how consolidated government is not and never has been in the best interest of the city of Lafayette. Somewhere a guy named Andy Hebert — most of us considered him a gadfly and a crank in the early ’90s when he lobbied repeatedly and vigorously before the Lafayette City Council and in the press against consolidation — is thinking to himself with a self-satisfied grin, “I told ya so!”