Parks tax election may be nixed

The City-Parish Council is poised to cancel a scheduled April 6 ballot measure to increase Lafayette’s parks and recreation property tax after some council members have had a change of heart.

Some of the councilmen seeking to halt the election said this week that they would rather bring voters a comprehensive tax proposal that addresses city-parish government as a whole rather than one department.

The council in November passed a resolution to ask city voters in April to more than triple the parks and recreation property tax from 1.92 mills to 7 mills.

A proposal is up for a vote at Tuesday’s council meeting to pull that tax from the ballot.

Four council members are sponsoring the proposal and one other member has confirmed that he will vote with them, meaning there is enough opposition to kill the election by a vote of at least 5 to 4.

Two of the councilmen sponsoring the proposal to cancel the election had initially voted in favor of putting the parks and recreation tax on the April ballot — Jay Castille and Don Bertrand.

Castille said he knows the Parks and Recreation Department needs more money, but he now wants to consider needs throughout city-parish government before moving forward.

“I think this is an opportunity to look at all of our taxes, the whole structure,” Castille said.

Castille and Bertrand are joined in the proposal to cancel the election by councilmen Keith Patin and Kevin Naquin.

Patin had voted against the tax measure in November, and Naquin was absent for the vote.

Naquin said this week that, like Castille, he wants to take a comprehensive look at city-parish government’s tax structure.

“I want a chance to look at everything and get it right the first time,” he said.

Not all councilmen who want to halt the April tax election are in favor of considering a broader tax package.

Councilman William Theriot said he will “most definitely” vote to cancel the April election but is wary of any future tax proposals.

“People’s pockets only run so deep,” he said.

Castille said he could not speculate on the details of any new proposal that might emerge from the council.

There has been general talk over the past year of a new sales tax, along with adjusting existing property taxes — possibly raising some millages and lowering others that bring in more money than is needed to fund what those taxes are dedicated to, such as the taxes for mosquito control and the parish health unit.

The current talk of a new tax plan comes about a year after Castille floated a proposal for a new half-cent public safety sales tax that would have taken the place of two existing fire and police property taxes.

He could not get the support of a majority of council members.

Castille said he feels the time is now ripe for serious consideration of city-parish finances.

“We’re at a point where the budget can’t take any more, and we need to do something,” he said.

Financial constraints already led the City-Parish President Joey Durel’s administration this year to strip funding for more than 80 unfilled positions in city-parish government, with more than half of those coming from Public Works, the Police Department and the Fire Department.

A two-year federal grant has allowed the Fire Department to fill those jobs, but funding is not secure in the long term.

Castille estimated that $10 million to $13 million in additional annual revenue is needed for public safety alone, not considering other areas of the budget.

The Lafayette Parish School Board might also be considering a major tax package this year.

Superintendent Pat Cooper has proposed a 10-year, 15-mill property tax for the educational turnaround plan and a temporary one-cent sales tax for up to six years dedicated to facility improvements.

Cooper has said his tax plan is a rough draft and has called for the creation of a committee of community members to vet the proposal, which he suggested be brought to voters in November.