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What is CREATE? Voters wouldn't know from election ads - KATC.com | Continuous News Coverage | Acadiana-Lafayette

What is CREATE? Voters wouldn't know from election ads

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LAFAYETTE -

A political action committee affiliated with Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux has excluded the full scope of this Saturday's tax rededication proposal in its advertising, urging voters to approve the measure without disclosing its passage would also move existing tax dollars to Robideaux's culture and tourism initiative.

Leadership for Louisiana has distributed at least three glossy mailouts, has paid for at least one Facebook video advertisement and is operating VoteYesLafayette.com, all of which urge voters to support the tax rededication "for flood protection" and which feature images, messages and videos from Robideaux urging the same.

But none of the advertisements mention that voting in favor of the drainage rededication would also move hundreds of thousands of dollars each year toward the cultural initiative Robideaux announced earlier this year, causing concern for some voters.

"Deceptive methods were used," said Mark Pope, a former Lafayette Consolidated Government employee. The public was not given complete information, and a promotional mail piece recently, and the whole story wasn't told. All we were told was money would be taken from the health millage, put into drainage. CREATE was not mentioned. So there is a mistrust of government when these deceptive methods are used."

According to the PAC's mailouts, "the ballot question asks the voters to rededicate those surplus funds to drainage and decrease the Public Health millage rate so that surplus will no longer accrue." The brochures and associated website go into more detail about the figures associated with the drainage portion of the proposed rededication, but they don't include the full scope of the proposal.

If Saturday’s proposition is successful, the tax rededication would repurpose some of the existing, 3.56-mill property tax dedicated to public health and mosquito and animal control, which has generated a $10 million surplus since voters chose to consolidate the funds in 2015.

According to the ballot:

  • 2.21 mills would remain dedicated to public health
  • 1.10 mills would be funneled toward "constructing, acquiring, improving and maintaining drains and drainage facilities in the Parish," as would the $9 million surplus already generated by the existing tax
  • 0.25 mills would be rededicated to fund "providing, establishing, operating, improving, and expanding public facilities and programs to foster and enhance the Parish's culture, recreation, entertainment, arts, tourism and their respective economies"

Robideaux branded the initiative as CREATE when he announced it at his inaugural parish-wide address earlier this year, and he's marketed it as a way to further diversify Lafayette's economy through its creative industries.

"CREATE is an economic development tool that we're gonna use to hopefully replace lost jobs from the oil and gas industry," Robideaux said in a Wednesday interview, in which he distanced himself from the advertisements.

"This third party, they wanted to focus on drainage. They knew that a lot of folks had flooded, that they were gonna be most interested in the drainage component, and that's the strategy they took. It's a third-party initiative — certainly nothing that I control," Robideaux said.

Former state Sen. Mike Michot chairs the PAC, for which Robideaux served as treasurer from its founding in 2009 until at least 2014, according to the PAC's statements of organization. Robideaux is not listed on the PAC's documents thereafter, with the departure coinciding with his campaign for mayor-president.

The PAC's advertising also focuses on the other two propositions on the ballot — 10-year renewals of property taxes that fund the jail and courthouse, both of which failed in April — warning voters of dire impacts should they fail, as the state requires municipalities to operate both facilities. If the taxes and rededication fail, money that could be used for drainage and other maintenance would be diverted to operating the facilities.

"I can't think of how we could be more transparent and open with the public than to say, 'We're not gonna raise your taxes. We're gonna spend existing tax dollars on drainage. We're gonna spend existing tax dollars on an economic diversity initiative. And we're asking you to support that. That seems to be the most logical and easy vote for anyone to make," Robideaux said.

The Lafayette City-Parish Council — except for District 9's William Theriot — voted in July to put the proposition before voters.

Robideaux has compared the initiative to other cities' branding efforts, like Nashville crafting itself as "Country Music Capital of the World."

In an October 2016 document outlining the initiative — for which LCG paid a Lafayette company called Believe Entertainment at least $25,000 — the tax rededication strategy would "successfully fund the CREATE: Lafayette mission without immediately increasing costs to citizenry."

Goals listed in the document include things like competitive marketing, establishing “state-designated creative centers in each parish district,” enhancing access to creative production by underrepresented citizens and connecting parks and recreation “assets via multi-use paths and waterways.”

Robideaux's administration has been inviting public input on the initiative. At ArtWalk in June, the public was invited to share "what culture means to them" and design "a postcard for visitors which captures the cultural essence of the community," according to a press release at the time. A two-day summit in August featured workshops and panel discussions on the initiative.

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