Durel: Lafayette needs “better conversation” about finances

City-Parish President Joey Durel’s plan for a “blue ribbon” committee to research solutions to Lafayette city-parish financial problems appears to have been shelved.

Durel announced the proposed committee in front of a large crowd of business and community leaders during his annual State of the Parish speech in February, identifying the formation of the group as a major step for an initiative he called “Momentum Lafayette.”

Durel said his plan was to bring together a group of residents who would have more credibility than elected officials when speaking about the financial problems facing city-parish government.

But the city-parish president said this week that he now questions whether the complexities of a large government budget can be effectively communicated to the general public in any meaningful way.

“We have not been able to get our arms around it. ... I just got the sense that everyone felt like it would be a futile effort,” Durel said.

Durel also lamented what he perceives as a strong anti-tax contingent in the parish that would have opposed any tax proposal that might have emerged from the committee.

“There are things that I can tell them until they’re blue in the face and it won’t matter,” Durel said.

The city-parish president, now serving his third and final term, said he is frustrated about what he sees as the inability to have frank conversations about city-parish finances and about whether Lafayette is properly funding its priorities.

“We’ve got to change the conversation,” Durel said. “... The only way we are going to get past all this is to have a better conversation to where it is not knee-jerk anti-government and knee-jerk anti-tax.”

The announcement about the “blue ribbon” committee came after the City-Parish Council over the past year discussed but rejected two tax proposals.

Some councilmen called instead for a comprehensive study of all city-parish financial needs, as opposed to a tax measure addressing only one area of the city-parish budget.

The council had considered but took no action on a new half-cent public safety sales tax that would have replaced existing fire and police property taxes.

The tax swap would have generated an estimated $10 million more a year in new revenue that some city-parish officials say is needed to support a more robust fire and police force.

The council had also voted to put an increase of the parks and recreation property tax before voters in April, but then changed course and voted to pull the measure off the ballot.

City-parish officials have said the property tax increase would have brought the parks and recreation tax up the point where the revenue could fully fund the parks and recreation department, which now receives an annual subsidy of more than $6 million from other areas of the budget.

Durel has characterized those two tax proposals as well meaning but had called instead for a strategy to address the city-parish budget as a whole.

It is unclear whether that strategy will be explored any time soon.

Durel said this week that he doubts the community will be ready to talk seriously about city-parish government’s finances until residents feel an impact — a drainage ditch that never gets cleared out or a closed park.

“It doesn’t hurt enough,” Durel said.

City-Parish Councilman Brandon Shelvin said he is still open to the idea of the “blue ribbon” committee, and the council could pursue it, even if the administration does not, but there is no current plan to do so.