In December, residents in the unincorporated area of Lafayette Parish will vote on a new fire protection tax.
That 10-mill tax is expected to raise around $4 million annually.
That money would pay for fire personnel and equipment for the parish’s seven volunteer fire departments.
“It was a lightning strike, it was a surprise, which you hear a lot of but when you experience it it’s a whole different story,” said Robert Romero, whose home in the unincorporated area caught fire last June. “I asked why there were so many trucks on the scene and that was because he said they had to bring fire trucks because there were no fire hydrants in the neighborhood.”
That is a service Lafayette Fire Chief Robert Benoit wants to maintain, but there’s not enough money in the parish general fund to cover it.
“You’re paying for something but you’re not paying enough for the protection that you’re receiving. It worked for a while but now you’re at the end and there’s not enough funding to maintain that minimum,” said Chief Benoit.
If the 10-mill tax is approved, the property tax for a home valued at $100,000 with the homestead exemption will increase by $25 per year. Taxes on a home valued at $150,000 would jump by $75, while a home valued at $200,000 would see a tax hike of $125 per year.
“You got to decide how you want to fix it. Do you want to fix it temporarily, do you want to put a band aid on it or do you want to fix it for a number of years going forward?” said Benoit.
Lafayette Consolidated Government has contracts with all 7 municipal volunteer fire departments where they send a fire truck and firefighters to respond in the unincorporated area.
Benoit says funding has not been able to keep up with the growth of the unincorporated parts of the parish. This, according to the fire chief, will cause the parish’s fire rating to worsen.
The unincorporated area currently is being evaluated for its fire protection rating. As of its last assessment, fire protection is at a level 5 nearing 6 (On a scale of 1-10, 1 being the best, 10 being the worst).
If the rating worsens, it will force home insurance premiums to go up anywhere from 11-21% and impact fire protection in the parish.
The fate of the tax will decide if that premium increase is temporary (until the funding from the tax rolls through) or permanent.
“These are unexpected things that you would never dream would happen to you and in a split second they could be gone,” warns Romero. “It’s really important to have those services. And I think sometimes we take them for granted because it’s not something we use every day but when you need them, it can have a huge impact on your life.”
The tax will be on the December 8, 2018, ballot.