Tomorrow, voters in Lafayette Parish will decide whether to approve two proposed property taxes on the ballot.
The first tax will be for 2.94 mills levied parish-wide and aimed at maintaining, operating and improving the minimum security detention and correctional facility, which is the parish jail in downtown Lafayette. This tax is projected to bring in $6.7 million annually over 10 years.
The second tax will be a parish-wide, 2-mill tax focusing on maintaining, operating and paying expenses for operations of the district courts within Lafayette Parish, which includes the Lafayette Parish Courthouse. This tax will include obligations mandated by state law and is expected to generate $4.5 million per year over a decade.
These taxes were introduced in May when the Lafayette City-Parish Council voted 5-4 to place these taxes on the November ballot.
If approved, these combined taxes would generate more than $11 million a year through 2028 for the “Lafayette Parish Courthouse Complex,” which is suffering from years of poor maintenance and financial neglect.
However, Mayor-President Joel Robideaux has publicly stated that he opposes both taxes, saying that the city and parish can “survive without it.”
The jail’s tax disparity is a result of its original 1.9-mill tax being passed when the jail was still located on the 7th floor atop the Lafayette Parish Courthouse. The jail has since migrated across the street into a five-story standalone facility with three times the inmate capacity.
Another 2.34-mill property tax funds the courthouse complex and the jail, but does not generate enough money to sufficiently fund both.
KATC reached out to Lafayette City-Parish Councilman Bruce Conque about the courthouse complex and its funding.
According to Conque, when the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center for Adults was expanded the property tax dedicated to its operation and maintenance was not adjusted to cover the additional expenses.
Instead, the “courthouse complex” definition was created to allow for a subsidy of the parish jail with dedicated courthouse property taxes. The courthouse complex, therefore, is the combination of the courthouse and the parish jail.
“The courthouse property tax fund balance is diminishing each year to the point that in the very near future the subsidy will no longer be provided to the parish jail,” said Conque via email. “Hence, the property tax proposition to increase revenues for the parish jail.”
As for the now-closed Buchanan Garage, Conque said it is not part of the courthouse complex.
Last year, a very similar pair of dedicated property taxes failed on April 29, 2017. Those taxes also sought to increase funding for the courthouse complex.
According to a response by Chief Judge David Blanchet after the taxes failed on the 15th Judicial District Court website:
When the “courthouse complex” millage was originally passed, the jail was located on the 7th floor of the courthouse. This tax generated approximately $5.2 million dollars per year in funds. However, because the jail’s separate dedicated millage, which generated $4.2 million dollars per year was inadequate, every year LCG diverted $4.1 million of the “courthouse complex” tax millage collections to the jail. This left only $1.1 million dollars annually for the courthouse building itself. Despite the fact that the jail has long since ceased to be located within the courthouse building, LCG, over the protests of the judges and the Clerk of Court, has continued to interpret “courthouse complex” to include the jail. By failing to renew both the “courthouse complex” tax and the jail tax on April 29, 2017, the voters essentially defunded the jail by $8.3 million dollars and the courthouse by $1.1 million dollars annually. Nevertheless, the Parish is mandated to pay for a “suitable building and requisite furniture,” together with utilities for districts courts, and a “good and sufficient” courthouse and jail.”
Polls are open on Tuesday from 6 a.m.-8 p.m. If you are in line at 8 p.m., you have the right to vote.