April ballot measure axed

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCKAshton Williams, left, and Josh Camel relax in a shady spot of Girard Park Tuesday afternoon after finishing a day of classes at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday voted against asking voters to consider an increase in property taxes for parks and recreation. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCKAshton Williams, left, and Josh Camel relax in a shady spot of Girard Park Tuesday afternoon after finishing a day of classes at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday voted against asking voters to consider an increase in property taxes for parks and recreation.

Recreation property tax won’t go to voters

An election that had been scheduled for April to increase the parks and recreation property tax in Lafayette has been canceled.

The City-Parish Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to kill the ballot measure, changing course after voting in November to send the issue to voters.

Some members said they now believe the council and administration should consider city-parish government’s financial needs as a whole and then bring voters a broad tax package rather than one focusing only on the Parks and Recreation Department.

“There are a lot of other things where I think we need to step back and take a more comprehensive look,” said Councilman Kevin Naquin. “… Everybody needs to realize that there are lot of needs, and this council needs to address it before it gets too far and we can’t do anything about it.”

Councilman Don Bertrand said the next step should be to pull together a working group to begin exploring future tax plans.

Three residents who addressed the council suggested that members look at trimming the budget, not new taxes.

“May I suggest that someone also form a committee to look at cutting spending,” resident Ray Green said.

No timeline has been set for when a proposal might emerge.

In November, the council voted 5-3 to ask voters in April to consider more than tripling the parks and recreation property tax from 1.92 mills to 7 mills.

City-parish officials had said the increase was not for new parks or programs but rather to end the subsidy that now comes from other areas of the city-parish budget to cover parks and recreation expenses.

All five council members who in November had supported the April tax election voted against it on Tuesday — Bertrand, Brandon Shelvin, Jared Bellard, Jay Castille and Kenneth Boudreaux.

Kevin Naquin was absent during the November vote. Councilmen Andy Naquin, William Theriot and Andy Naquin had initially voted against the tax proposal and remained in opposition on Tuesday.

No specifics about any future tax plan were discussed on Tuesday.

Castille said in an interview last week that he sees funding for public safety and recreation as two of the most critical areas that need to be addressed.

Castille had proposed a half-cent sales tax for public safety last year that would have taken the place of two existing fire and police property taxes.

The plan would have brought a net annual revenue increase of about $10 million — gaining $16 million a year from the sales tax while losing $6 million from the expiring property taxes, according to estimates from city-parish government.

The council did not pursue the proposal.

Castille said last week that financial constraints are now reaching a point “where the budget can’t take in anymore.”

City-parish government has been forced to repeatedly dip into savings from past years — called the “fund balance” — to cover annual expenses, which have been pushed up by rising costs in general and by employee health care and retirement in particular.

That means that city-parish government has been spending more money than it is generating through tax revenue.

The problem is evident this budget year.

City-Parish President Joey Durel’s administration stripped funding for some 80 unfilled positions, including police officers and firefighters, and for the second consecutive year, the administration did not give a 2-percent cost-of-living increase to city-parish government employees.