Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Attorney Greg Logan has his work cut out for him, if indeed he’ll be the laborer cutting hay on his 8 acres of undeveloped land in a residential neighborhood on Alleman Drive off Johnston Street. Logan says he bales hay every year on his property, which also comes equipped with a one bedroom residential “shed” that uses city services and has a satellite dish attached to it. Over the past couple of months, The Independent has identified a number of large-tract landowners in Lafayette who are skirting thousands of dollars in property taxes every year by claiming agriculture status when there doesn’t appear to be any ag activity on their property. Even a bale of hay allows them to legally keep farmland status, thanks to an archaic law that desperately needs to be rewritten. Logan, whose property appears too well-manicured for hay-making, is losing his agricultural status — at least temporarily. It will now be taxed as residential property, and Lafayette Parish Tax Assessor Conrad Comeaux says to get the ag status back, Logan must prove to his office that hay is really being grown and cut. As for the occupied shed that has never paid property taxes, Comeaux says it will be carved out and taxed at a residential rate, thanks to this newspaper’s findings.

It’s debatable whether avarice is the root of all evil, but it’s definitely a thorn in the side of UL’s Parking and Transit Office. Evidently all that cash collected at university parking lots is just too irresistible. For the second time in about four years an employee of the department has been arrested for absconding with cash — in the most recent case roughly $85,000 over the last 20 months. Although the employee hasn’t been convicted and, as best we can gather, hasn’t confessed, the administration canned her two days after her arrest, which followed the arrest of the office’s former director who, in a plea deal, agreed to pay back $20,000. It might be time for our cash-strapped university to develop tighter controls over all that money.

Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret says a major project proposed for Lafayette is one of 15 in jeopardy across the state if the Legislature cuts the megafund. When the House Appropriations Committee amended House Bill 1, the $25 billion state spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1, it eliminated $81.8 million in existing funding for Louisiana’s Mega-Project Development Fund. With site location decisions anticipated in the next two to four months on all 15 of these major projects, the change threatens every high potential mega-project LED is actively pursuing. The megafund is for projects that generate at least 500 direct new jobs and/or $500 million in capital investment. Moret says those 15 projects — Louisiana has already been selected a finalist in all of them — could potentially mean more than 27,000 jobs for the state. The budget is now being debated in the Senate, but even if the decision is reversed Moret maintains the damage has been done: “Louisiana’s competitive position already has been weakened for all of our current prospects because the committee vote [and subsequent House approval of the budget] calls into question the Legislature’s commitment to the existing funding for the Mega-Project Development Fund.”

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