Director warns revenue can’t cover expenses
By RICHARD BURGESS
August 17, 2012
LAFAYETTE — City-parish officials are considering asking voters in the spring to increase the property tax for the Parks and Recreation Department, which has been struggling for several years to cover expenses with existing revenue.
“This is not for a new golf course or a new recreation center; this is to maintain what we have today,” Parks and Recreation Director Gerald Boudreaux said Thursday. “If we do not have additional funds ... some of these (recreation) programs will have to be eliminated.”
Boudreaux said the Recreation Advisory Commission has unanimously endorsed asking city voters to increase the property tax that funds the department, now at 1.92 mills.
The recreation tax was approved in the 1960s and has remained unchanged, even as the number of parks and recreation centers has more than tripled, Boudreaux said.
The City-Parish Council would have to approve bringing the tax issue to voters; no date has been set as to when the measure might be considered.
The discussion of increasing the recreation property tax comes as the City-Parish Council reviews next year’s proposed budget this month where cuts have been made across the board because revenue has not kept pace with rising expenses.
The parks and recreation budget was up for review Thursday, and proposed expenditures were trimmed 13.6 percent from this year, dropping from $13.6 million to $11.8 million.
“This is the toughest it’s ever been as far as funding,” Boudreaux said.
The proposed budget cuts three positions, and Boudreaux said his department plans to reduce the days and hours of operation for the city’s 10 recreation centers to save on utilities and the expense of temporary employees.
“Some of those will be scaled back during the summer months where they are only open four or five days,” Boudreaux said.
He said the department also plans to increase fees for building rentals, some athletic programs and the city’s campground.
“We had to weigh the possibility of closing some of these centers, cutting back on programs,” he said.
The department’s proposed budget for next year needs a subsidy of about $3.8 million because the recreation tax and user fees cannot support operations, Boudreaux said.
“We can’t continue to subsidize the department to the tune of $4 million a year,” he said.
The goal of any tax increase would be to eliminate that subsidy, Boudreaux said, though no decision has been made on how much of an increase voters might be asked to approve.
The council discussed the tax issue only briefly during Thursday’s budget hearing, but no council member expressed any vocal opposition to following the Recreation Advisory Commission’s recommendation to bring the issue to voters.
The recreation tax is paid only within the city of Lafayette, and there has been an ongoing debate of how to fund the limited recreation offerings outside the city limits.
The proposed tax increase would address only the city tax, and not expand the collection of the tax outside the city limits.
Boudreaux said funding for rural recreation is an issue but one that can be dealt with later.
“We have some immediate needs and immediate fixes that have to be addressed now,” he said.
The Recreation Department operates 10 recreation centers, three golf courses and 28 parks within the city limits and eight parks outside of the city limits.