Way back on January 22nd, numerous members of the LCG council announced their intention to rededicate $18 million of the Library’s surplus to road and bridge maintenance and drainage improvement projects. Even then, Councilman Bruce Conque suggested reducing the rededication amount to only $10 million. Then there was discussion of the “ghost millage,” which spooked the council enough to punt the discussion to April 9th.
How they arrived at the original $18 million is a mystery. However, the financial folks at LCG suggest that there are no plans to spend at least $26 million of the library’s $42.3 million fund balance. An astute reader may remember last year when most of the public officials said the library had no surplus at all. Now that everyone finally agrees that our assessment was correct and there is, indeed, a surplus, it now comes down to slicing it up for more pressing priorities.
That brings us to last night’s meeting. As expected, when money is “discovered” (you’re welcome, by the way) different council members will inevitably have different priorities. Instead of focusing on what the public is screaming for, namely roads, bridges, and drainage, they started talking about all the good they can do with that money. And, by “good” they mean pet projects that very few people are asking for.
As mentioned earlier, back in January, it was Mr. Conque who wanted to reduce the roads re-dedication from $18 million to $10 million. At the time there wasn’t a plausible justification presented for that reduction. However, the months long delay has provided sufficient enough time to think one up.
Yay! Let’s build another library!
Seriously. In a presser just an hour before last night’s LPUA meeting, Kenneth Boudreaux actually proposed building a tenth library in Lafayette Parish. While his motives may sound noble, the council has said multiple times that it does not have any control over the library. The library has its own board and that board pretty much controls everything – budget included.
That’s what we were told during the drag queen debate. That’s when council assured everyone that they can not stop the library from spending money to put on a drag show for toddlers. Yesterday, though, Mr. Boudreaux has suddenly found the power to tell the library how it can spend money? In his press conference, he appealed to a conspicuously absent library board for a new branch to be constructed east of I-49. During the event, Ben Myers of the Acadiana Advocate had several excellent questions. Have you talked to the library board about this? No. It’s highly likely that no one from the library had even been invited to attend the meeting. However, Bruce Conque and Jay Castille were there in support of the idea. Does the council have any control over the library’s budget? No.
Is the library planning a new branch?
We’ve made it a point to attend most of the library board of control meetings lately. Adding yet another branch to their operation has not been brought up in any meeting for at least the last year. In fact, the most recent board meeting discussed the bookmobile and the new Scott branch that’s opening soon. They even discussed rolling forward their millage (to raise your taxes by accepting increased property assessments). The board voted unanimously not to do that, abandoning some $800,000 in annual revenue. If they were planning to build another $8 million library, it’s hard to believe they’d not accept all of the money available to them.
Unlike during Mr. Boudreaux’s press conference, the library director and several board members and staff were present at the council meeting that began an hour later. They spoke several times to the resolution itself and during several amendments. Director Elberson was also called up independently of comments to answer a few council questions about existing revenues and the board decision to not roll-forward property taxes.
During the long discussion, Mr. Boudreaux’s new library idea did come up. He suggested that $8 million could be retained and used to pay for a new branch, cash. Mr. Theriot hinted at the unrestricted nature of that $8 million cash payment by asking about the $18 million in un-tapped, but voter approved bond money that’s restricted to library construction. Bruce Conque suggested that he opposed accessing the bond money because it had the potential to raise property taxes. This is the very first time we’ve ever heard Mr. Conque express concern over raising taxes.
As the meeting progressed, no member of the library staff or the library board even acknowledged the possibility of building another library. Mr. Boudreaux simply spoke his wishes into the air and then granted the library $8 million in unrestricted cash – no strings attached. It was as if the whole exercise was nothing more than cover for allowing the library to bolster its surplus by an additional $8 million.
$18 million, less $8 million for a new library, leaves $10 million for roads, bridges, and drainage.
Did somebody say free money?
While we’re spending money somebody found just laying around (you’re welcome again), what else can we spend it on? Councilman Jay Castille put forward a proposal to spend it on recreation and parks. There was no real plan on which parks, or what projects they’d use the money on. The discussion focused on some municipalities have a dedicated recreation tax (the scoundrels) and the rest of the parish can’t keep up.
Many of the parish parks are located in or very near municipalities who could take them over (and probably do a better job of maintaining them) but that idea was never broached. No, let’s take $2 million more from roads, bridges, and drainage and give it to recreation and parks. It’s for the kids, after all. Who would vote against the kids?
$10 million, less $2 million for parks, leaves $8 million for roads, bridges, and drainage.
And just like that, half the money is gone
We started out with a proposal to spend $18 million on roads, bridges, and drainage. Now there’s less than half (44% to be exact) left for that purpose. The majority of the money has now been ushered away to pet projects. Or, in the case of adding a new library, on the hope of a pet project. Here’s the breakdown
- New Library: $8 million
- Recreation & Parks: $2 million
- Potholes: $3 million
- Bridges: $3 million
- Drainage: $3 million
So, next time you’re getting another front-end alignment because of all the potholes, or you have to drive around because the bridge is out, or when you hear a flash-flood warning on the radio, ease your anxiety with a thought that, somewhere in the parish, a baseball dugout has a fresh coat of paint and the library has an additional $8 million growing cobwebs in their surplus fund.