Lafayette has long done the heavy lifting for the parish’s overall prosperity, but something has to give. By Walter Pierce

Friday, March 1, 2013

That “blue ribbon” committee on taxes in Lafayette Parish can’t commence its work soon enough. To even get us within shouting distance of fair will be a slog, and by fair I mean fair to the city of Lafayette.

When the tweed-trimmed politicos met in mid-February to commence this parishwide discussion, the parsimonious patriots showed up to carp about cutting spending. But Lafayette Consolidated Government isn’t known for its profligate spending. Even if we cut out funding for arts and social services we’ll still be in a tricky strait because the city of Lafayette since consolidation in the mid 1990s has shouldered an inequitable amount of the burden for the parish’s overall prosperity. And as Lafayette goes so goes Lafayette Parish.

Consider just a couple of examples, starting with the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Like most government agencies save for the Department of Swinger Party-Code Enforcement, the MPO isn’t an exciting one. It makes recommendations on how federal transportation dollars should be spent within the parish. It has its own staff of planners in an office at the Rosa Parks Center downtown. The MPO does important work.  

The decision-making arm of the MPO is the Lafayette City-Parish Council, an obvious designation since the nine council members represent everyone in the parish.

By October of 2014 the MPO will be federally mandated to expand to include parts of Iberia Parish due to the 2010 census and the way Uncle Sam delineates metropolitan areas. It’s understandable that our friends in Iberia will want representation on the MPO when that time comes. They don’t want a bunch of Lafayette Parish guys making these decisions for them.

But here’s the kicker: Although the feds pay most of the cost of the MPO — salaries for staff members as well as the projects themselves — the city of Lafayette foots the bill for the operating costs. That’s about $100,000 annually. Chump change compared to the overall LCG budget. But parish government in this “consolidated” parish pays nothing, nor do Broussard, Carencro, Duson, Scott or Youngsville, although everyone in Lafayette Parish, via the council, has representation on the MPO.

Have the mayors of the smaller towns ever stepped forward to address this, to say, “Hey, Lafayette, we’ll pitch in our fair share!”? The short answer is no, although they’ve been happy to make sure those federal highway dollars are fairly shared.

This is an inequity born of consolidation when the city of Lafayette adopted a kind of noblesse oblige toward the rest of the parish.  

The city of Lafayette maintains a golf course, Les Vieux Chenes on the south side, which probably attracts more golfers from Broussard and Youngsville due to its proximity to those towns. But, again, Lafayette’s Parks & Recreation Department, which operates and maintains our municipal golf courses, is funded solely by a property tax paid by city of Lafayette home- and business owners — a property tax approved in the early 1960s and one that hasn’t kept pace with the proliferation of parks, recreation centers, golf courses and sports fields. Everyone in the parish uses them, but city of Lafayette property owners fund them. And Parks & Rec is starving to death, subsidized by about $4 million annually from the general fund of the city of Lafayette. Like the MPO and a host of other agencies — notably our Public Works department, which serves the entire parish but uses vehicles and equipment owned by the city — Lafayette is doing the heavy lifting for this parish’s prosperity.

I suspect if Lafayette city voters knew in 1992 what we know now, consolidation would never have happened. Now it’s an albatross, because politicos in the satellite towns know a sweet deal when they see it. No wonder many of them lobbied against deconsolidation in 2011.

We don’t have a spending problem in Lafayette. We have a revenue problem, and fixing the way taxes are levied across the parish — and, yes, generating more revenue — to make it more fair for Lafayette is vital to everyone’s future.

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