City-Parish President Joey Durel rails against consolidated government

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LAFAYETTE, Louisiana — City-Parish President Joey Durel is railing against Lafayette's consolidated form of government, telling a committee exploring city-parish finances recently that he could not support any future tax proposal without changes to the current structure of local government.

Durel, who is serving his third and final term, spoke last week to the city-parish Future Needs/Funding Sources Committee — a citizens advisory group created by the City-Parish Council in February to map out strategies to address the needs of local government.

The Advocate (http://bit.ly/Vjfv7q) reports the committee is expected to give its recommendations later this year, but Durel said he would be wary of any proposals seeking new tax revenue if efforts are not made to put a taller wall between the "city" and "parish" sides of city-parish government.

"Until the structure of this government is fixed, I will never support another tax," he said.

The once-separate governments of Lafayette Parish and the city of Lafayette merged in 1996, but the marriage has been fraught with difficulties.

"We have been fooled into thinking it's all about kumbaya," Durel said.

The finances for the "city" and "parish" sides still are kept separate in the budget, and tax rates inside the city are higher than in rural areas.

And despite the fact that most tax dollars are generated within the city limits, everyone on the nine-member City-Parish Council has an equal vote on budget issues.

That means a council member with a mostly rural constituency has the same say over the budgets of the city's police and fire departments as a council member whose constituency is entirely within the city of Lafayette, even though rural residents pay no taxes to support those departments.

"We have noncitizens of Lafayette deciding how we spend city dollars," Durel said.

The problem is made more complicated because residents in the five smaller municipalities — Broussard, Youngsville, Scott, Carencro and Duson — pay parishwide property taxes and can vote for city-parish president and city-parish council, even though those cities do not fall under the oversight of city-parish government and have their own mayors and councils.

Durel said it leaves the city-parish president and council members trying to serve multiple masters when issues arise where the interest of the city of Lafayette conflicts with those of the other municipalities or rural areas.

"Politically, it's a disaster," Durel said. ". As the mayor of Lafayette, I have to go campaigning in Broussard, Youngsville and Carencro."

As one possible solution, Durel and others have proposed a tweaked version of consolidated government where only council members who represent the city of Lafayette vote on city issues, such as how to spend tax dollars collected in the city or oversight of the city's utility system, police and fire departments.

The idea, however, has gained little traction.

Durel said consolidation was touted as a way to save money through the efficiencies of combining the staff and departments of two governments, but he said that never happened because, with the exception of elected officials, the workforce numbers never changed.

He said the plan was to gradually trim the combined workforce through attrition as employees retired after consolidation, then use the money that had gone to salaries to pay for more projects, such as road and drainage work.

"It never happened," he said.

Durel said bringing any tax proposal to voters to address those issues would be difficult without first addressing consolidation.

"It has created a lack of trust in this government for me," he said.


Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com

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