LAFAYETTE — The City-Parish Council on Thursday voted down a proposal from Chairman Jared Bellard to cut funding for arts groups and social service agencies and use the money instead for firefighters.
The vote came as the council formally adopted City-Parish President Joey Durel’s proposed budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which begins Nov. 1.
Bellard’s proposal, which failed 6-3, was one of the few big-dollar amendments that was in dispute after a series of budget hearings in recent weeks.
The council also voted down $700,000 in drainage projects that two council members sought to add to the budget and stripped $50,000 from the supplemental funding the city-parish government gives to the Cajundome.
Bellard’s proposed funding switch would have cut $275,000 for a satellite vehicle tracking program and $672,944 for arts groups and social service agencies, freeing a total of $947,944 to staff a new fire station to serve the city’s growing population.
Fire Chief Robert Benoit told council members earlier this year that his department does not have the money to staff a new fire station, which the chief argues is needed to maintain top-notch fire protection in the future.
Bellard argued that public safety should take priority over supplemental funding for arts and social service organizations.
Durel has defended funding for the nonprofit groups as an investment in quality of life, and his administration maintains that the vehicle tracking program saves money.
Voting in favor of the funding switch were Bellard and councilmen William Theriot and Andy Naquin.
Councilmen Kenneth Boudreaux, Brandon Shelvin, Donald Bertrand, Keith Patin, Kevin Naquin and Jay Castille voted against Bellard’s proposal.
This was the fifth year that either Bellard or Theriot has proposed ending supplemental funding for a list of arts groups that includes Festival International and the Acadiana Center for the Arts and social service agencies that provide health care, domestic violence protection, mentoring programs and other services.
The majority of the council has consistently voted to keep the funding in place.
The council voted down Bellard’s proposal with little discussion.
No members of the public spoke on the issue, though several representatives from Festival International attended the meeting and submitted to the council comment cards opposing the cuts.
The council also voted 6-3 to kill separate proposals from Theriot and Bellard for drainage projects in their respective districts.
Bellard had proposed setting aside $200,000 to begin design work for a drainage project along Teljean Road.
Bellard said heavy rains routinely push water over the road.
Boudreaux spoke against funding the project, arguing that the Public Works Department, rather than the council, should decide which drainage projects are a priority.
“I’ve always leaned on the department to bring the projects forward,” Boudreaux said.
Theriot had proposed tagging $500,000 to clean a portion of Anselm Coulee in southern Lafayette Parish.
The project has been talked about for at least a decade, he said, and heavy rains this summer pushed water dangerously close to many homes along the coulee.
Castille said there are other unfunded drainage projects across the parish that are likely a bigger priority than Anselm Coulee.
“There are many other issues out there,” Castille said. “There are ways of going about getting money for these larger projects, and it takes time.”
Theriot, Bellard and Andy Naquin were the only council members to support adding the drainage projects to the budget.
In other business, the council cut a proposed $50,000 increase in city-parish government’s operating subsidy for the Cajundome and Convention Center, keeping the annual subsidy at $500,000.
The $50,000 will be used instead to help pay for cutting the grass along the interstates through Lafayette.
Durel’s proposed budget for next year had stripped funding for interstate grass cutting — a job that the state does but not as frequently as some city-parish officials would like.
Boudreaux pulled money from the Cajundome and other sources to rebuild the grass-cutting fund to $200,000.
Shelvin said constituents have complained to him that the grass at the I-10/I-49 interchange “had gotten so high that they can’t even see oncoming cars when they were exiting.”
The city-parish budget is about $581 million, which includes operating expenses, capital improvements and the budget for the city-owned utility system.
The operating budget is about $172 million.