On Tuesday, Sheriff Mark Garber and District Attorney Keith Stutes attended the Lafayette Consolidated Government Finance Liaison Meeting to discuss the traditional security role that deputies from the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office serve at the Lafayette Parish Courthouse.
In attendance at the meeting were LCG Chief Administrative Officer Lowell Duhon, LCG Chief Financial Officer Lorrie Toups, LCG Clerk of Council Veronica Williams and several members of the Lafayette City-Parish Council, including Jared Bellard, Liz Hebert, Williams Theriot and Pat Lewis.
Garber told the council that after the 1/2 cent sales tax that his office placed on the ballot last December failed, he began closely examining his budget to determine where he could make appropriate cuts.
The ensuing audit revealed that the LPSO was paying for certain services that LCG was actually responsible for providing, specifically the four full-time deputies stationed at the two primary entryways into the Lafayette Parish Courthouse that visitors must check in to and pass security.
According to Garber, the cost for providing salaries, benefits, uniforms and other essentials for these deputies to provide the courthouse with adequate security is around $216,000 each year.
Garber also mentioned his office found several other positions at the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center that he believes are also the responsibility of the parish and not LPSO, including maintenance deputies, food service deputies, laundry staff, the education department, the chaplain and the medical staff who provide counseling for inmates.
According to Garber, LCG and several other local agencies including the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court and the 15th Judicial District used to contribute funds to provide security at the courthouse, but since 2009 the LPSO has been the only agency in the parish funding these deputies.
The councilmembers in attendance said that LCG would find a way to provide the courthouse with appropriate security since the parish is mandated to fund the courthouse, even if it had to be paid from either the Lafayette Parish General Fund or the Lafayette Parish Courthouse Complex Fund, which is funded by a long established millage.
The council said the issue would be placed on the agenda in future council meetings. The council also suggested several potential remedies for new security at the courthouse, including contracting an outside security service. However, such a security force would not have authority to make arrests.
Garber admitted that he was looking ahead to the prospective budget for the coming fiscal year, and said that the deputies will remain in their current role for the moment.
“We are going to continue to provide security for now,” said Garber. “There was never a time to pull out. This was just an attempt to get the conversation started.”