What is on the ballot on December 8?
A set of amendments to the Lafayette City-Parish Charter, which would primarily split the current City-Parish Council into a City Council, elected only by City of Lafayette residents, and a Parish Council, elected by voters parishwide.
In short, the amendments restore the City of Lafayette’s autonomy while providing Lafayette Parish with a council focused solely on Parish issues.
Why is this important to the City of Lafayette?
The current City-Parish Council is in reality only a Parish Council in representation – its districts are drawn with no regard to municipal boundaries – and yet its members, regardless of their location, have complete authority over the City of Lafayette, including the use of City tax dollars.
Right now, Council members who, in some cases, do not live in the City of Lafayette, or who answer to largely non-City constituents have an equal say in how the City of Lafayette is run. In other words, people outside of the City of Lafayette have a voice in City of Lafayette issues. For instance, people outside of the City of Lafayette can decide how to set rates for the Lafayette Utilities System – which is owned by City residents only – even though they and their constituents don’t receive or pay for LUS services.
This form of representation is un-American, fundamentally unfair, and a bad way to run government. In fact, it’s no different than citizens of France electing representatives to the U.S. Congress, Texans electing representatives to the Louisiana Legislature, or Orleans Parish residents electing Lafayette Parish officials.
Further, these amendments place the City of Lafayette on equal footing with the other Lafayette Parish municipalities – Broussard, Carencro, Duson, Scott, and Youngsville – which have their own respective city councils.
Why is this important to the Parish of Lafayette?
This is not just about the City. While the City of Lafayette lacks proper representation, the Parish of Lafayette’s governance lacks the focus it needs. By their own estimation, City-Parish Council members spend 80% of their time on City of Lafayette issues. A Parish Council – undistracted by City of Lafayette issues – can focus solely on long-neglected issues like drainage and roads.
In addition, consolidation was supposed to solve the Parish’s funding problems. It has not. Because of a lack of accountability on the Parish side, we have kicked the can down the road for years. Now, the Parish has an ever-growing need for drainage and road improvements to serve the unincorporated areas, but dwindling revenues and reserves.
How much will this cost?
Splitting the 9-member City-Parish Council into a 5-member Parish Council and a 5-member City Council will add one new Council member overall. Each Council member is compensated roughly $30,000 per year; thus, the added cost is approximately $30,000, or about .02% of the $126,500,000 million of the combined amounts of the City and Parish general funds. No new clerical staff will be required.
Will this raise my taxes?
No, these charter amendments have no effect on taxes. But if you believe that an elected official should not decide how to spend your tax dollars unless they pay the same taxes you do, then you should support these amendments because under the current system, Council members who live outside of the City of Lafayette have a vote on how to spend City tax dollars – and they can vote to call for a new tax election, too. Splitting the Council lets you hold your elected officials responsible for the tax-related decisions they make in a way that you cannot now.
I spend money and get charged sales taxes in the City of Lafayette, shouldn’t I also get a vote on those sales taxes?
City of Lafayette residents vote to approve City sales taxes – to levy them on City of Lafayette businesses – just the way that Youngsville residents approve their own sales taxes. Should Broussard residents who shop in Youngsville get a vote on the Youngsville City Council? Folks come from Crowley to shop at the mall – should they get to vote on who represents the City of Lafayette? New Orleans’ economy thrives on the sales and hotel taxes driven by tourism – should everyone who comes down from Iowa for Mardi Gras get a vote on the New Orleans City Council?
Isn’t this deconsolidation?
No. The City-Parish Charter will remain in effect. We will still have consolidated services like one Department of Public Works and one Department of Development & Planning. We will still have one Mayor-President to oversee these consolidated departments. The charter amendments will preserve the benefits of consolidation while making government more accountable by better aligning taxation and representation.
Why not split up the Mayor-President job, too?
These amendments do not change consolidated government services, so splitting up the executive branch of consolidated government would mean that the consolidated departments – Public Works, Parks & Recreation, Development & Planning, for example – would have two bosses. To paraphrase Harry Truman, the buck has to stop somewhere; otherwise, the executive functions of government can come to a halt. If we are going to preserve the benefits of consolidation, then we should have one executive.
Why not fully consolidate?
Full consolidation is politically infeasible, as it would require the other Lafayette Parish municipalities – Broussard, Duson, Carencro, Scott, and Youngsville – to dissolve their mayors and councils.
Why not annex everything?
Some have suggested divvying up the unincorporated areas among the existing municipalities. This is problematic for several reasons. First, there are legal barriers against “forcing” annexation. Second, it would impose the annexing municipality’s property taxes, resulting in a tax increase for those annexed residents. Third, the Parish’s general fund is already running at a deficit, and further elimination of its sales tax base would only make the problem worse.
Why did Lafayette even consolidate in the first place?
Consolidation, which was voted on in 1992 and went into effect in 1996, was intended to save money by streamlining services – why, for example, in a parish this size should there be two public works departments? This proposal will preserve those efficiencies, while restoring the voter-accountable representation that will result from a focused City Council and a focused Parish Council.
Why the rush? Why not wait until the 2020 U.S. Census is completed?
Quite the opposite of a rush – this issue has been debated for years, with many different proposals coming forward over the past decade. The fact that the issue keeps coming up is evidence of the underlying weaknesses in the current Charter. In addition, it’s important for this amendment to be voted on in advance of the 2019 Council elections; otherwise, it will delay implementation of any changes until after the 2023 Council elections. Why wait five more years? Either way, the 2020 census will be an opportunity to draw new district lines – the difference is that the Parish Council and the City Council will decide their own new boundaries, as opposed to a City-Parish Council making those decisions.
Why only 5 members (instead of 7) on each new Council?
To minimize the cost of government. Two more representatives on each Council would cost at least $120,000 annually (4 x $30,000 compensation). Adding more representatives can still be accomplished on a future ballot, if deemed worthwhile.
If only 2 of the 5 districts on the new Parish Council will have a majority City of Lafayette residents, isn’t there a risk that the Parish taxes collected from City of Lafayette taxpayers will be spent outside the City?
That would actually not be a change from the last three decades of government spending. While the City of Lafayette makes up more than 60% of the Parish’s tax base, almost none of those Parish taxes are spent on City of Lafayette services and infrastructure – or on any of the other municipalities in Lafayette Parish for that matter. That is because there is an imbalance between the high need for road and drainage improvements in the unincorporated areas and the amount of available dollars. While this amendment will not raise more revenue, a Parish Council will be more focused on the problems in the unincorporated areas of the Parish. That’s a start.
Won’t this reset term limits?
No. The effect on term limits was one of the main objections to the proposal when it was initially taken up by the City-Parish Council. The Council acknowledged these criticisms and amended the proposal so that their current terms will continue to count toward the new term limits. All current term limits will remain in effect.
I am a resident of the unincorporated Parish. How does this benefit me?
The current City-Parish Council structure does not adequately represent the interests of either the City or the Parish. City issues are decided by elected officials with substantial constituencies outside the City. Similarly, many Parish issues – including drainage and road maintenance in unincorporated areas – do not receive the focus they deserve from a consolidated Council that focuses primarily on the City. Approximately 80% of the business that comes before the current Council is related to City of Lafayette issues. This proposal would establish a Parish Council that can focus more effectively on the Parish as a whole. Everyone deserves a Council that will focus on their issues.
This proposal won’t fix everything, so why should I still support it?
No proposal is perfect, but the amendments on the December 8 ballot are a major step forward. The creators of the City-Parish Charter in 1992 never intended that the document remain static. These will be the first major amendments to that document in 26 years. These amendments are about how we continue to fix the Charter so that it remains viable and serves all the citizens of Lafayette.
How does this affect LUS?
The proposed charter amendments would provide that the Lafayette City Council be the governing authority of LUS. That is an appropriate change, because right now, the City-Parish Council has the final sign-off authority over LUS issues – meaning, for example, that representatives who don’t live in the City have the ability to decide LUS rates. The amendments would also require any proposal for management of a substantial part of the Lafayette Utilities System to be approved by a vote of the people in the City of Lafayette at an election called by the Lafayette City Council. Right now, that sort of issue could be decided by the City-Parish Council without a vote of the people.
While Fix the Charter has not taken a position on any proposal for a private company to take over management of LUS, we do have a very strong stance – only a Lafayette City Council, acting on behalf of all City of Lafayette residents, should decide what happens with LUS because LUS is owned by City of Lafayette taxpayers. Again, it’s about accountability.
When has the City of Lafayette ever actually been harmed by having a City-Parish Council rather than a strictly City Council?
- The Old Federal Courthouse site downtown has been owned by the City of Lafayette for almost 20 years. But despite years of effort on the part of City representatives and downtown business leaders, that site has sat vacant and been deteriorating. That is because the four “mostly” Parish representatives on the City-Parish Council have held out hope that the site would become the site of a new Parish courthouse. As “Parish” Council members, that is their job. But over the years, if only one of the “mostly” City Council members voted with them, they held an effective veto over proposals to turn the site into a residential or commercial development. And so, despite strong city-wide consensus, our form of government has prevented that property from being returned to commerce.
- In 2013, a proposal to amend the Charter, similar to this one, was proposed to the City-Parish Council. Although four of the five “mostly” City Council members voted to move the proposal forward – saying it was important to the City’s interests – a lone “mostly” City Council member joined the other four parish Council members to vote the measure down.
- While services are consolidated, taxes are not. There are City taxes – paid by City of Lafayette residents – and Parish taxes – paid by everyone in the Parish, including City residents – and they are collected and accounted for separately, as required by law. Every year, the City-Parish Council has to decide how much “City” taxes and how much “Parish” taxes are used to fund the shared expenses of consolidation. This is called “cost allocation.” Think of it like the City and Parish are dining together and the cost allocation is how they decide to split the check. The first year of consolidation in 1996, the City taxpayers paid about 60% of the bill, which made some sense because the City of Lafayette was about 60% of the population. Today, even though the City of Lafayette’s share of the parish’s population has shrunk to 53%, City of Lafayette taxpayers are picking up more than 83% of the check. This increase is the only thing keeping the Parish budget afloat. The difference between now and then equates to roughly $5 million every year City of Lafayette tax dollars are used to prop up consolidation. That is $5 million a year that could be used for City services or City infrastructure.
How can I help?
This proposal benefits every resident, every taxpayer, no matter their address. If you believe in the principle that we all deserve equal representation, if you believe that government functions best when its people can hold it accountable, if you want to make Lafayette a stronger place for future generations, please consider giving us your support. To donate or volunteer, please contact us. And please vote YES on December 8.