Lafayette’s Durel proposes pay raises for city-parish employees

Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel on Thursday unveiled a proposed budget that would give raises to employees for the first time in two years, create a new position to work with private developers and reduce property taxes for mosquito control and the local health unit.

The document is now in the hands of the City-Parish Council, which is scheduled to review next year’s proposed spending plan department-by-department in a series of five hearings to stretch through the end of August.

The council is scheduled to vote on final adoption in September.

The proposed expenditures are $598 million. About 47 percent of that is to go toward running city-owned water, sewer, electric and telecommunications services.

There are no major new expenditures in the proposed budget, with the exception of an across-the-board raise of 2.5 percent for city-parish government’s 2,265 employees.

The pay bump comes with a price tag of $2.8 million a year, Chief Financial Officer Lorrie Toups said.

City-parish employees had enjoyed nearly annual cost-of-living adjustments until 2011, but the raises had fallen victim over the past two years to tight budgets.

The budget now has a bit more wiggle room, in part because city-parish government has cut 80 positions and in part because sales tax revenues have climbed back up from a low point during the national recession.

Durel wrote in his budget message to the council that city-parish government is “having difficulty competing in the workplace for qualified employees” because of the lack of pay increases in recent years.

The proposed budget also adds one new position — a “Chief Development Officer” who Durel said would work with new developers to guide them through the process of permitting and approvals from various city-parish departments.

Durel said the hope is to create a “one-stop shop” for new businesses.

The budget also eliminates a standalone Traffic and Transportation Department and the position of director of traffic and transportation, a job that had long been held by Tony Tramel until his retirement earlier this year.

Under Durel’s proposal, most of the functions of the Traffic and Transportation Department will be shifted to the Department of Public Works.

Durel on Thursday also asked council members to reduce the property taxes that fund the parish’s mosquito control program and the Parish Health Unit.

“We have more money in those two accounts than is necessary (to run the programs),” Durel said.

He said the taxes could be raised again if funding becomes an issue and that, ultimately, he would like to ask voters to rededicate the taxes, combining both of them into one tax that would fund mosquito control, the health unit and animal control.

In a budget shift with a delayed impact, Durel has proposed changes that could mean fewer road and drainage projects in rural areas outside the city of Lafayette.

The once-separate city and parish governments were consolidated in 1996, but the tax structure remains separate.

For several years, taxes collected within the city limits of Lafayette have funded work in unincorporated areas of the parish.

“Under any circumstance, that is highly inappropriate,” Durel said. “We have basically found a way to reverse the bleeding.”

The proposed budget lays out a strategy that gradually shifts money from unincorporated areas back into the city.

The impact will not be felt this year because projects now on the books will be completed, but budget projections for future years paint a bleak picture for the prospects of work in rural areas of the parish if nothing changes.

“Any projects after this year are going to be slim,” said City-Parish Councilman Jay Castille, who represents a large rural constituency in northern Lafayette Parish.

Castille said the only solution he sees is to bring in more tax revenue from the rural area of the parish, either through new taxes or through the rededication of existing taxes that now fund other things.

“It’s going to take more money coming from the unincorporated areas of the parish,” he said. “We’ve kicked that can down the road for a long time.”