Lafayette tax panel to be seated soon

A “blue ribbon” committee to explore possible tax proposals for Lafayette city-parish government could be seated as early as next month, City-Parish Council Chairman Brandon Shelvin said Monday.

City-Parish President Joey Durel announced plans for the committee earlier this month during his annual “state of the parish” address, calling for a comprehensive look at financial needs at a time when local government is straining to keep up with rising expenses.

No specific tax proposals have been made, but city-parish leaders met Monday with representatives from the parish School Board, the Sheriff’s Office and other tax-supported entities to talk about any other tax issues that might be on the horizon in the parish.

The only other potential tax measure that was discussed is a rough proposal by Lafayette Parish School Superintendent Pat Cooper for a 10-year, 15-mill property tax for an educational turnaround plan and a one-cent sales tax that could be collected for a maximum of six years to pay for facility improvements.

Cooper said that without new tax revenue, there is not enough money to continue a major school turnaround program that began this year and the school system will struggle to accommodate what’s expected to be a growing student population.

“In 10 years, if we don’t plan ahead, we’re not going to have a place for these kids to sit,” he said.

The School Board has formed a committee to vet Cooper’s tax proposal and make a recommendation.

Durel said Monday that city-parish government’s blue ribbon committee is expected to work with the School Board’s committee so the two groups can phase in any possible tax proposals and not move forward with competing measures.

City-parish government’s proposed blue ribbon committee comes after the City-Parish Council has rejected two separate tax proposals over the past year — an increase in the parks and recreation property tax and a new half-cent sales tax for public safety.

Durel labeled those proposals as well-meaning efforts to fill budget holes but said they were “knee-jerk” reactions to a financial problem that cuts across all areas of city-parish government.

Shelvin said, “We have to take a comprehensive look at what we are doing now.”

City-parish government has been repeatedly dipping into savings built up from prior years to cover expenses that are growing faster than tax revenue.

In a major cut to address the issue, the administration and council stripped funding for 78 vacant city-parish jobs from this year’s budget rather than fill the positions.

Councilman Don Bertrand said he has had constituents who pleaded with him not to raise taxes to address the financial problems.

“My question is, what services in the future are we going to do without?” Bertrand said.

The only comments at the Monday meeting directly questioning any new tax proposals came from Lafayette resident Jeremiah Supple.

“Whenever you raise the rate of taxes, I say you look awfully hard at that,” he said.