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Economic Districts allow tax increases without voter approval

Posted at 6:15 PM, Dec 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-18 19:31:22-05

LAFAYETTE, La. — Five new taxing districts will be created in the City of Lafayette next year.

The Lafayette City-Parish Council met for the final time Tuesday night with a packed agenda.

Six taxing districts, which were proposed by outgoing Mayor-President Joel Robideaux, were up for final adoption:

  • Downtown Lafayette Economic Development District
  • University Gateway Economic Development District
  • Trappey Economic Development District
  • Northway Economic Development District
  • Holy Rosary Institute Economic Development District
  • Acadiana Mall Economic Development District.

Five of the proposed districts were approved. The decision to create the Acadiana Mall Economic Development District was deferred indefinitely. The first meetings for the the boards overseeing those districts will be this Friday, December 20th, and Monday, December 23rd. The quick call for the meetings during the holiday season led council member Jared Bellard to send a stinging email to the council and administration:

This is the Holy Christmas season for the public that we serve it is not a time for politics as usual. As stated in previous e-mails sent to ALL council members, to ALL directors and to the Mayor/President, all were aware of the set schedule of when meetings would be heard and take place, especially during the holiday season in the month of December.

First and foremost, we should note that the citizens we represent have holiday plans already in place. It would be a DISSERVICE to call special meetings knowing that this is the Holiday Season and the citizens of this great Parish were not given amble notice of said meetings ahead of time, both of which are being called during the lunch hour.

Some of our staff, council members and members of the public have made their plans for the Christmas Season. I, myself, will be out of town until December 26, 2019. All of our regular meetings have been fulfilled for the month of December. If an emergency of any type would come up, God willing it does not, then we need to schedule a meeting as approved by Legal.

At the very least, we can have some type of discussion on said special meetings after the Christmas Holidays.

WHAT IS THE RUSH?
Lafayette City-Parish Council Member Jared Bellard

Addressing the council last night regarding the meetings, Bellard said, "No one's ever contacted me. I'm downtown, just like y'all said y'all own a business, I have a business downtown. Zero. Number two as a council member, zero contact."

Opponents of the unique districts say they are unfair because they give parish governments in Louisiana the ability to raise taxes without getting citizen approval in an election to vote on the increase.

Incoming Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory expressed his opposition to the taxes at Tuesday night's meeting, saying it's unfair to residents. "I do not support these districts, I do not support these taxing districts for many of the reasons that were said today. What voters get to vote on this," he said.

Addressing the council, he explained, "I don't deny that the intent is good. I'm not saying what you want to achieve is bad; actually, I think it's great. All I'm saying is we have other options."

"Help me, help me get businesses to Lafayette," Guillory added, "Make us send a statement to the world that we are tax friendly, that we are business friendly. That we're not just going to have a knee-jerk reaction."

Supporters say the districts help to spur economic growth and residential areas are excluded from the tax. The taxing districts are intended to help with economic development. Council member Kevin Naquin explained, "By looking at the districts and deciding, I don't think I'm going there, that's your vote, that's your right to vote."

A two-percent sales tax and a two-percent hotel occupancy tax will be collected in the Trappey Economic Development District, which encompasses the old Trappey's building, starting July 1.

In the other four economic development districts that were approved, a one-percent sales tax and a two-percent hotel occupancy tax will be collected, starting July 1.

After hearing from Guillory and others in opposition of the taxing districts, Councilman Kevin Naquin cited the success of the economic development districts in Carencro, Broussard and Scott.

"I have a problem with people that are trying to stop the City of Lafayette from doing what everybody else is doing," said Naquin. "Shame on you."

"He says 'help me get business,' well, he's representing all of Lafayette Parish, the businesses are going to Scott, Duson, Broussard, Youngsville, Carencro," added Naquin.

On Jan. 6, the city-parish council will be replaced by separate city and parish councils.

The city council will oversee the taxing districts.