In a recent article from the Daily Advertiser, several council members referred to the November tax elections as a solution to ongoing funding problems in Parish Government. Let’s have a look.
1. The money the new court tax would generate would bring them back to the level of funding available to the court system before the council started cutting their budget the past few years. That would allow refurbishment of the courtrooms and jury rooms,” said Jay Castille.
Last year, the parish spent $1,964,937 on the Judicial District Court. The most ever spent in one year on the district court was $2,297,709 in 2013. That’s a difference of $332,772. The new proposed tax is worth $4,553,907, or thirteen-times (13x) the amount of money they’d need to “bring them back to the funding available … before cutting their budget.” Also, remember that the district court generates some of its own revenue. If we back out that self-generated revenue, total expenses might end up being around $1.5 million. $4.5 million is still three-times (3x) the amount needed for the court to operate.
Something else to consider is the ballot language does not cover capital improvements. “…maintaining, operating, and paying expenses for the District Court within Lafayette Parish.” No capital improvements, such as “refurbishment of the courtrooms and jury rooms,” are not part of the ballot language.
The story shifts, though, as Castille suggests that if that $1.5 million is freed up in the general fund, the money will be spent on courthouse improvements. “The council would be able to stop using parish general fund money to pay for unfunded state mandates for the district courts and allow the parish to use general fund money to improve the courthouse itself, including the exterior and building holding cells for prisoners awaiting court appearances.” There is currently $7.5 million for those purposes working its way through Louisiana state government. That money can be found on pages 11 and 17 of the Louisiana Bond Commission’s agenda for September 20th; items #68 and #71. Both lines of credit were approved. Although it’s was not a sure thing that the $3 million in Priority 2 money will be made available this year, the state’s $300 million surplus may change all that. The remaining $4.5 million is Priority 5 (the lowest) and will not be coming from the state this year.
2. For his part, Bruce Conque took the jail tax straight on. “The fund balance from a parish wide courthouse complex tax has been subsidizing the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center for years, at times by more than $2 million, instead of being used for the courthouse.” While this statement starts out true, it’s a little misdealing. Yes, in 2016 $2.3 million was transferred to the jail from the courthouse & jail tax. However it’s not a subsidy because the courthouse & jail tax is supposed to cover part of the jail’s expenses.
He then added, “In a few years, the balance will be gone, leaving a gap in jail funding for operations and maintenance.” Last year, the courthouse and jail tax spent $2.5 million less than it took in, adding it to their account balance. That’s hardly a dwindling or reserves. Their growing balance now sits at $7.8 million.
All this information can be found in the “actual” column on pages 144 and 145 of the 2017 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. Keep in mind that the jail’s second tax doesn’t have an account balance. That balance is kept in the “courthouse and jail maintenance” fund on page 145.