Feb 11, 2014 21:33 Durel: Use health funds for animal control Durel: Use health funds for animal control Advocate file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel speaks earlier this year at the Convention Center in Lafayette. Durel is hitting the road in March and April for a series of town hall meetings to talk about priorities for the final two years of this third term in office. Voter OK needed to use mosquito-control, health unit funds for animal control Richard burgess| email@example.com Feb. 11, 2014 Comments LAFAYETTE — Two new tax proposals are in the offing for Lafayette. City-Parish President Joey Durel used his annual State of the Parish speech Wednesday to outline tax plans for animal control services and for a new terminal at the Lafayette Regional Airport. Durel said he plans to ask the council within the next month to call an election where voters would be asked to allow city-parish government to fund animal-control services with property tax revenue that is legally restricted to mosquito control operations and the parish health unit. “With voter approval, this would be accomplished without raising property taxes one penny,” Durel told a crowd that packed into the Cajundome Convention Center for his annual speech. The Lafayette animal shelter and animal-control operations have a budget of more than $1 million that comes from Lafayette’s general fund because there is no separate tax for animal control. “For the first time ever, we will have dedicated money to not only operate animal control, but to build a new state-of-the-art facility that better represents the best overall city and parish in America,” Durel said. The property taxes for mosquito control and the health unit have brought in millions of dollars more than needed in recent years and the accumulated savings are expected to be at about $10 million by the end of this year, according to figures from City-Parish Chief Financial Officer Lorrie Toups. Voters approved those taxes with the condition that the revenue could be used only for mosquito control and the health unit, so the extra money cannot be shifted to other areas of the budget without city-parish government going back to voters for approval. The City-Parish Council would need to sign off on putting the issue before voters and the council would also have the option of reducing those taxes rather than rededicating them. Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux said he wanted to be sure that some of the extra revenue should not be used to beef up services at the health unit before shifting it to animal control. “For me personally, I would have to look closely at the operations at the health unit,” Boudreaux said. City-parish government is now authorized to collect up to 2.06 mills for the health unit and up to 1.5 mills for mosquito control, but the council last year temporarily suspended collection of the health unit tax and lowered the mosquito tax to 0.5 mills, relying on accumulated savings to cover expenses. Durel also touted a plan to ask voters to approve a one-cent sales tax that would be collected for one year, with the revenue to be used only for a new terminal at the Lafayette Regional Airport. The proposal is coming from the Lafayette Airport Commission, but the City-Parish Council would need to approve putting the tax on the ballot. “Right now, we have reached the useful capacity of the terminal,” commission Chairman Matt Cruse said. “We can’t add anything else to the mix.” Cruse said that the number of passengers at the airport has steadily increased year after year and that projections call for a 40 percent increase over the next decade. A new terminal and related projects to expand capacity is estimated to cost from $80 million to $90 million, Cruse said. He said a one-cent sales tax collected for one year would raise from $30 million to $35 million. The airport could borrow about $20 million more, Cruse said, and the balance is expected to come form various state and federal programs. He said the commission hopes to get the tax on the ballot this fall. Durel’s speech on Wednesday also touched on a wide range of other issues, including some aesthetic endeavors. He proposed turning the grassy areas along Camellia Boulevard between Johnston Street and the Vermilion River into a site for sculpture, memorials and other public art, and he also announced a plan to allow painters to give the artistic treatment to the large boxes around the city that contain equipment for traffic signals and utilities. Durel spoke of working with the mayors of the smaller municipalities in the parish to develop an annexation plan, with everyone agreeing to an overall annexation map and ending the battles for land that have played out in recent years in southern Lafayette Parish. Durel had proposed a similar annexation plan at his state of the parish speech in 2009, but the idea did not gain much traction at the time. The city-parish president talked enthusiastically of the current effort to develop a comprehensive plan for growth and development in the parish. “Maybe the comprehensive plan is a step in making us take a hard look at ourselves and what we are going to, or for, future generations,” he said. Durel also warned, as he did in last year’s speech, of what he sees as a critical flaw in Lafayette’s current form of consolidated government. Lafayette’s once separate city and parish governments merged into a consolidated city-parish government in 1996, but Durel and others have said council members from districts outside the city of Lafayette wield too much control over city affairs, such as the deciding on the budgets of the police and fire departments and the city-owned utility service. “Lafayette deserves the ability to govern itself just like ever city in the parish, in fact the same as every city in America,” Durel said. Voters in 2011 rejected a proposal to return to separate governments, but there has been a push for a tweaked version of consolidation that maintains city-parish government while creating a separate city council within the larger city-parish council that would make decisions on city-only issues. Durel is halfway through his third and final term of office.