Lafayette sheriff’s money request unpopular with small cities

Neustrom seeks higher pay for jail, dispatching service

Sheriff Mike Neustrom started letting officials in Lafayette Parish’s smaller cities know in March that he planned to seek more money from them to defray the costs of sheriff’s dispatchers and jail bookings.

He floated the request publicly for the first time at a Carencro City Council meeting in November.

Representatives of Neustrom’s office proposed then that the council approve an annual Carencro taxpayer-funded fee of $40,000 that would be paid to the Sheriff’s Office for dispatch services, or communications. An additional $50,000 would be used to pay for incarceration and booking at the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center. The $90,000 would be in addition to the more than $600,000 a year Carencro property owners pay in taxes to the Sheriff’s Office.

Carencro responded that it wasn’t willing to fork over the additional money, and Mayor Pro Temp L.J. Boudreaux said then its answer would remain no absent more compelling reasons than those provided that November night by sheriff’s jail director, Rob Reardon, and its communications center supervisor, Lt. Wanda Daly.

“They didn’t give us too much information other than ‘this is what we want,’” Boudreaux said this week. “(Neustrom’s) going to have to explain more on this.”

Boudreaux said he and other elected officials were miffed that Neustrom himself didn’t show up at the November presentation seeking the additional money.

“He sent his spokesmen when our council requested our elected sheriff to be there,” Boudreaux said.

Neustrom said was surprised at the response from Carencro.

“I thought we had cleared that up,” Neustrom said. “Obviously, they have some issues.”

The sheriff is not likely to face friendlier councils in Broussard, Youngsville and Scott when, or if, he makes his requests in those other Lafayette Parish cities for an extra $90,000 a year from each.

“I think he (Neustrom) is overstepping his grounds,” said Jay Castille, city manager for Carencro and a Lafayette City-Parish Council member representing Carencro. “He’s the keeper of the jail and he’s bound by state statutes to do that. I don’t how he figures he should get more for the services he’s providing.”

Neustrom said this week the extra money his office wants from each of the cities is to offset higher jail and dispatch costs due to the ongoing growth of those cities.

He said there are no shortfalls in the Sheriff’s Office current budget, and the requests for more money are not connected to cost overruns in the parish’s $24 million prison under construction in north Lafayette.

Neustrom said the construction on Willow Street remains on budget.

The Sheriff’s Office is due the extra money, Neustrom said, because the costs to provide those services is well beyond what those cities are paying now.

“We’re trying to prevent, 10 years from now, five years from now, having to address the problem we should have addressed a long time ago,” Neustrom said.

“We don’t think it’s unreasonable that the towns pay a negotiated amount to help us house (prisoners) as well as help us provide services in the dispatch area.”

Neustrom runs a substantial operation, one with a budget of more than $50 million, according to financial figures contained in a 2012 audit of the Sheriff’s Office. The revenue comes from different sources, including a parishwide sales tax. Most of the income, however, comes from property taxes.

The three separate property millages are projected to generate more than $35 million for the Sheriff’s Office in 2013, according to the Lafayette Parish Tax Assessor’s Office. In 2012, the figure was over $34 million.

The revenue streams are from two law enforcement taxing districts and one for the correctional facility. Embedded in the figures is the money paid by property owners in Carencro, Scott, Youngsville and Broussard.

Carencro property owners paid just under $622,000 to the Sheriff’s office in 2012, according to the tax assessor’s office.

Boudreaux, a Carencro council member who filled in as mayor at the November meeting, said taxpayers who put up another $90,000 in fees would not get $90,000 more in services.

“If he (Neustrom) needs more money, he can go to the voters to increase the millages (property taxes),” Boudreaux said.

Scott Police Chief Chad Leger said the money paid to the sheriff by his city’s taxpayers — almost $1 million in 2012 —now outweighs the benefits deputies and others provide.

“What are we getting for that million dollars? What are our citizens getting?” Leger said.

Missing from the debate is Lafayette, which uses the parish jail and pays the Sheriff’s Office about $1 million a year for that service, said Dee Stanley, chief administrative officer for Lafayette Consolidated Government. Lafayette has its own dispatchers and communications center for the city police force.

Neustrom did not say when he would again approach Carencro or appear at the council meetings of the other cities requesting the money.

“Let’s figure this out,” Neustrom said. “We provide a good service. We think we should be compensated.”