Durel sets visits with residents

City-Parish President Joey 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.

Among the topics are tax plans to better fund animal control and to help build a new terminal for Lafayette Regional Airport, annexation policies and the possibility of a new performing arts center.

Durel outlined most of the issues in his annual “state of the parish” address in February, but he said the town halls will allow him to dig into the details, as well as get general feedback from residents about what they want from local government.

Two major proposals set to come before the City-Parish Council this year are a one-cent sales tax to help pay for a new terminal at the airport and a plan to support parish animal control services with property tax revenue now legally restricted to mosquito control operations and the parish health unit.

The Lafayette animal shelter and related animal-control operations cost the parish about $1 million a year, but there is no separate tax to support the service.

At the same time, the existing property taxes for mosquito control and public health have been bringing in millions of dollars more than needed in recent years, but the money sits in a savings account because the property tax revenue is legally dedicated to those services and cannot be used for anything else.

Durel’s plan, which would need approval from the council and parish voters, is to allow some of the money now collected for the health unit and mosquito control to also be used for animal control, which would ease the strain of animal control on the overall budget without raising the overall property tax rate.

Durel said he has heard that some council members might want to expand the proposal and bring in other tax changes that could be brought to voters all at once.

He cautioned against it, arguing that voters might reject the measure if it gets too complicated.

“What I want to do is much simpler and much easier to understand,” Durel said.

Another tax issue expected to come before the council in the next few months is a proposal from the Lafayette Airport Commission for a one-cent sales tax that would be collected for eight months, enough time to raise an estimated $35 million toward a terminal that would cost an estimated $90 million.

The balance would come from state and federal funds and bonds that the airport could repay over time, according to the proposal as outlined by the commission.

Durel has supported bringing the airport tax to voters, but the council has the ultimate say on whether it makes it onto the ballot.

Durel said he also will use the town hall meetings as a platform to further explain a parishwide annexation he has pushed off and on for about four years.

In general, the plan calls for the leaders of all six cities in the parish to sit down and agree on who should annex what rural areas into their city boundaries.

Such an agreement could end the ongoing annexation battles in southern Lafayette Parish, some of which have landed in court, and also take some of the burden off the “parish” side of Lafayette City-Parish Government, which does not have strong enough tax revenues to meet the demands for roads, ditches and other infrastructure needs in rural areas.

“My proposal is that all of us look at rounding out our borders and taking some of the burden off of parish government,” Durel said. “The six cities of Lafayette Parish have got to find a way to help parish government.”

In a related matter, Durel said he would like to open the floor for discussions of how to tweak the current form of consolidated government.

Lafayette’s separate city and parish governments merged in 1996, but the marriage has not been a happy one. A contingent of leaders within the city of Lafayette have complained that rural constituencies have too much power under consolidated government and that some spending in rural areas has come at the expense of city taxpayers.

Lafayette Parish voters in 2011 shot down a proposal to undo consolidation, but Durel and others have said that even if the merger holds, it could be altered to address some of the problems.

“The consequences of keeping it exactly as it is are dire,” Durel said.

Durel said he also plans to discuss the possibility of a new performing arts center for the city to replace the 50-year-old Heymann Performing Arts Center on College Road.

“There is no doubt it’s going to happen one day,” Durel said. “If it’s a 25-year project, let’s not make it a 26-year project. Let’s start the discussion now.”

The town hall meetings, scheduled for 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., are set for the following days and locations:

Monday at the Clifton Chenier Center.

March 31 at the North Regional Library.

April 2 at Youngsville City Hall.

April 7 at the South Regional Library.

April 9 at Scott City Hall.