Lafayette park finances spur tax talk
Lafayette city-parish officials may ask voters next year to pay more for parks and recreation.
Tax increases are often proposed to help fund something new or to expand or improve what’s already in place.
The recreation tax increase under discussion in Lafayette is framed as a move to update a property tax that was passed in the 1960s and never revisited, even as the number of parks and recreation centers has tripled.
Lafayette city residents pay a 1.92-mill recreation property tax, which comes out to $19.20 per household for a $100,000 home.
That tax generates about $2.4 million a year, less than 25 percent of next year’s recreation budget of roughly $12 million.
Recreation fees bring in a few million dollars more, but the department has relied on an annual subsidy of $3 million to $4 million from other areas of an already strained city-parish budget — money that could otherwise be used for roads, firefighters or police officers.
Parks and Recreation Director Gerald Boudreaux has said the specifics of the tax proposal are still being developed, but the general thinking is not to expand recreational offerings but rather generate enough revenue to maintain what’s already in place without relying on a subsidy from other areas of the budget.
Any decision to put that tax on the ballot needs approval from the City-Parish Council.
The council earlier this year decided not to take action on another tax proposal that would have asked voters to approve a half-cent public safety sales tax while letting two existing fire and police property taxes expire, bringing a net annual tax revenue increase of about $10 million to beef up fire and police forces.
If council members were wary of a tax proposal for public safety, one might wonder how they will react to a tax proposal for recreation.
But voters have been receptive to recreation tax proposals in some Lafayette Parish municipalities.
Youngsville voters last year approved a one-cent sales tax to pay for a 70-acre sports complex near the Sugar Mill Pond development, and voters in Broussard passed a half-cent sales tax for a wide range of recreation projects.
The half-cent sales tax in Broussard generates about $3 million a year.
That’s about $600,000 more than the annual revenue brought in by the recreation tax in the city of Lafayette, which is more than 10 times the size of Broussard.
Broussard officials have laid out a $20 million plan for 171 acres of new parks and sports fields — impressive for a city of about 8,200 residents.
Lafayette leaders have long talked of a need for more money for parks and recreation.
City-Parish President Joey Durel formed an exploratory commission four years ago to seek solutions for recreation funding.
The commission never made any formal recommendations to the council, but, over the course of a few meetings, one realization seemed to emerge: Cities with great recreation departments pay more taxes to support recreation.
Key in the discussions at that time was the extensive park system in Baton Rouge, overseen by the East Baton Rouge Recreation and Park Commission, or BREC.
BREC is supported by a property tax of about 14 mills.
That’s seven times the recreation millage in Lafayette.
The phrase “you get what you pay for” comes to mind.
Richard Burgess is The Advocate’s Acadiana bureau chief. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.