Council agrees to put airport sales tax on ballot

Advocate file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- A plane sits at the terminal of the Lafayette Regional Airport recently in Lafayette. Show caption
Advocate file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- A plane sits at the terminal of the Lafayette Regional Airport recently in Lafayette.

LAFAYETTE — Voters are set to decide Dec. 6 on a 1-cent sales tax to be collected for eight months next year for a new terminal at the Lafayette Regional Airport.

The Lafayette City-Parish Council voted 7-1 Tuesday to put the tax on the ballot at the urging of the Lafayette Airport Commission.

The tax would be collected from April 2015 through November 2015 and generate an estimated $37 million for a $90 million project to build a larger terminal, expand parking and make other upgrades to accommodate larger airplanes.

The balance of the funding would come from state and federal grants and borrowed money the airport could repay over the next several years, said commission Chairman Matt Cruse.

He told the council the existing airport terminal and parking are already stressed and that projections call for passenger numbers to steadily climb in the coming years.

“In the next year or so, we are going to reach a capacity point where we are not going to be able to service the demand we have now,” Cruse said. “…... It’s something we can’t ignore.”

The council’s vote came after the e resignation Sunday of longtime airport Director Greg Roberts for an alleged incident last week involving conduct at work that the commission has declined to discuss.

Cruse has said the allegations do not involve anything of athe sexual or physical nature.

Lafayette Parish Sheriff’ Office spokesman Craig Stansbury has said a detective is looking into the matter but declined to comment further.

Councilman William Theriot, who cast the only vote against the tax proposal, asked whether the airport commission should wait to move forward until after a new director is hired.

Cruse said the commission makes decisions about the terminal, not staff members.

“The airport’s staff job is to carry out the policy and will of the commission,” he said. “We would not put someone in that position who did not want to move forward with the will of the commission.”

Cruse said the commission is preparing to launch a nationwide search for a new director and will likely seek candidates with experience in a growing market similar to Lafayette’s and with overseeing a terminal project.

“I think we will be in a better place within a couple of months from now,” he said.

Cruse said the new terminal would be built next to the existing terminal, which opened in 1965.

The old terminal would be razed to make way for more parking and possibly space for new commercial developments, he said.

If voters approve the tax, the new terminal is expected to be open by 2018, Cruse said.

The airport commission has been seriously discussing the project for about two years, and City-Parish President Joey Durel unveiled the tax proposal in February during at his annual State of the Parish.” address.

Durel said Tuesday a new terminal is among a number ofa big priorities for Lafayette — a list that includes roads, schools and public safety — but one that can be funded without taking money away from the others.

“This is one where we can get in and out and not affect at all any of the other priorities,” he said.

Two residents spoke against the tax proposal at Tuesday’s council meeting, both questioning new taxes in general.

“My question is why is the solution so often to raise taxes?” said Ross Little Jr., who suggested major budget cuts and saving money over the next several years for the project.

“If there is a financial influx needed at the airport, you need to find that in a different way,” he said.