LAFAYETTE — Legislation filed this session would give a 2 percent raise every year to employees of the Lafayette Police Department as long as local sales tax collections are healthy — a proposed state-mandated budget expense that has caught some city-parish officials off guard.
HB 794 , by state Reps. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, and Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, would call for Police Department employees to receive a 2 percent annual raise following every year that city sales tax collections rise by at least 3 percent.
Robideaux said a group of Lafayette police officers approached him to draft the legislation.
Robideaux said he has not had the chance to discuss the bill with City-Parish Council members but would give much weight to their opinions before moving forward.
“Unless I hear differently, I assume the council is in favor of it,” Robideaux said.
He likely will hear differently.
Two City-Parish Council members said Wednesday that they had just learned of the proposed legislation this week.
“It kind of came out of nowhere,” Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux said.
Boudreaux said he supports the Police Department, but he worries about the state dictating what would normally be a budget decision handled by local officials.
“I’m an advocate for law enforcement, but like I’ve told people often, we have an entire budget,” Boudreaux said.
Councilman Jay Castille and City-Parish President Joey Durel shared Boudreaux’s sentiment, arguing the decision on pay raises for local police should not be mandated by the Legislature, at least not without first consulting with city-parish officials or setting aside state funds for the raise.
Castille said he was surprised to learn about the proposal secondhand this week.
“I didn’t know anything about it until now,” he said.
Castille said that in the past five years, city-parish government has boosted starting pay for police officers and overhauled salaries in every department to bring pay in line with the private market and other local governments.
“I don’t think this is the right time,” Castille said of the police pay raise bill.
There is precedent for the state Legislature mandating raises for emergency officials.
For example, firefighters statewide receive a 2 percent raise every year thanks to state legislation passed several years ago — a mandated expense that has drawn complaints from local officials in lean budget years.
Robideaux said he does not believe the 2 percent raise would be that much of a hardship because the legislation includes the trigger that sales tax revenue must rise by at least 3 percent.
“The city would still keep the lion’s share of the sales tax,” Robideaux said.
City-Parish Chief Financial Officer Lorrie Toups said the finances of the proposal are more nuanced.
Lafayette’s share of the local sales tax is 2 cents on the dollar, but only 35 percent of total collections can be used for operating expenses, such as salaries, with the remainder dedicated to capital projects.
A 3 percent rise would bring in $821,500 for the year in additional revenue for operating expenses, which would cover the 2 percent raises for police and firefighters but not much else, according to current budget figures from Toups.
About $284,000 of that $821,500 would go to fund the mandated 2 percent raise for firefighters, and it would cost another $421,000 for a 2 percent raise for police officers, meaning that after those raises are paid out, the city would realize only about $117,000 in additional operating revenue from the 3 percent rise in sales tax collections, Toups said.
Durel said another complication could emerge if city-parish tax collections fell sharply in an economic downturn, say by 10 percent, and then rose by 2 percent the next year.
In those situations, the city would generally rely on built-up savings until revenue stabilized, but it could be forced to make bigger cuts or even lay off employees to meet a mandated 2 percent raise for all police and firefighters.
“Nobody with any common sense would think that is smart business,” he said.
Robideaux said he has not moved to put the bill before a legislative committee yet, mainly because he wanted to give local officials plenty of time to speak up so he could consider any objections or concerns.