More taxes coming soon to a ballot near you! So, let’s just get straight to it. On July 19, 2023 at 5:30 PM the Lafayette Parish School Board will be holding a meeting to consider calling a new tax election for the Southside School District. Residents in that area have a decision to make. They can either wait and see how it goes or they can become informed and act. The choice is yours, but there are some things you should know.
SOUTHSIDE SCHOOL DISTRICT
The Southside School District was created by the Lafayette Parish School Board at the June 7, 2023 Board meeting. Board Member Donald Aguillard, whose district predominantly falls within the special taxing district boundaries, brought the resolution. It was seconded by Britt Latiolais and passed by a vote of five to three. Parts of the special taxing district fall within the districts of Board Member Kate Labue, who voted in opposition of the measure, and Board Member Hannah Mason, who was absent. This is the first special taxing district to be created by the Lafayette Parish School Board.
In January of this year the Youngsville City Council and Mayor unanimously supported a resolution urging “investing funds from Lafayette Parish School System for an athletic stadium at Southside High School.” Well, the School Board is now coming to get more funds to make that a reality. We reached out to the Mayor and Council Members for the City of Youngsville to determine if they supported the actions of the School Board. Simone Champagne (R 7/10) indicated that she didn’t support the measure, stating “the School Board has other options to accomplish what the Southside group is requesting, without any additional taxes.”
Matt Romero (R 8/10) indicated that he supported higher taxes. He responded, “Taxes aren’t popular and the south part of the parish is probably taxed more than any other area, but these tax dollars are proven to be put to good use and I think this temporary tax will do the same.” No comment was received from the Mayor Ken Ritter or the other members of Council: Ken Stansbury (R 6/10) (who tried calling but did not respond in writing), Lindy Bolgiano (R 7/10) and Logan Lannoo (R 5/10).
WHY THE NEED?
According to Aguillard, the sole purpose of the taxing district is to fund a sports stadium for the Southside High School. The Lafayette Parish School System has already used up all of its bonding capacity. Effectively, that means they’ve converted all available future tax revenue into a big lump sum payment – like one of those bad JG Wentworth commercials. In an effort to get their hands on even more spending money, they’re planning to raise taxes on all property owners within the district.
This is not a new issue, if we even want to consider it an “issue.” When Southside High School opened in 2017 it didn’t have a football stadium and it still doesn’t. For a period of time, Southside partnered with Teurlings Catholic High School for the use of their facilities, but that is no longer occurring. At present the football facilities at St. Martin Highschool are being utilized to host games for Southside High School. It is rumored that Acadiana Renaissance Charter Academy in Youngsville offered to fund or partially fund a facility to be used by both schools, but that proposal was reportedly rejected because Southside High School wanted its own facilities. We did reach out to ARCA for comment. As of this writing they have not responded indicated whether this was actually proposed.
NORTHSIDE ATHLETIC FACILITY
In November of 2021 the Lafayette Parish School Board approved a measure that would allow for the purchase of 37.7 acres of land for $2.65 million dollars. At that time Board Member Donald Auguilard reminded the Board that they already owned over 600 acres of unused land in the parish. This includes 274 acres adjacent to Southside High School. But instead of building a facility on land already owned, the Board decided to purchase more land. The meeting minutes indicate that a budget revision was made to move $2.7 million dollars committed to the Northside High School to a Parish-wide Athletic Complex fund. Some Board members joked about having to drive too far for some “baby back ribs” indicating that the move would “drive some economic development on our side of town.” Where exactly does “economic development” fit into the mission of the School Board?
Since that purchase there has essentially been no progress towards developing an athletic complex, which could have been used for both Northside and Southside High Schools. The main reason for this seems to be a lack of funds! The Board presently has several new school facilities being built within the parish. These are funded by tax dollars collected from the parish as a whole, not from smaller districts these school s are being built in. The residents on the southside of Lafayette Parish are being asked to pay taxes in excess of anyone else in the parish to receive the same facilities enjoyed by other high schools within the Parish.
So, is the Southside School District just the pilot for what is to come? Will the School Board start breaking up the school district into smaller taxing districts for each area to be taxed for the purposes of funding their own district projects? Afterall if you aren’t aware there are at least eleven separate special taxing districts in operation in the Parish of Lafayette already.
SPECIAL TAXING DISTRICTS
Call it what you want… a special taxing district, an EDD (Economic Development District) or a TIF (Tax Increment Financing). It’s just another way to raise TAXES. Some noteworthy taxing districts already in existence in Lafayette Parish are:
- US90 EDD in the City of Broussard
- 1-49 EDD in the City of Carencro
- Destination Point EDD in the City of Scott
- Apollo EDD in the City of Scott
- Trappey Economic Development District
- Northway Economic Development District
- Holy Rosary Economic Development District
- Downtown Lafayette Economic Development District
- I-10 Corridor District (MM101)
- I-10 Corridor District (MM103)
- University Gateway Economic District
We have mentioned a few of these before. Such as the I-10 Corridor District (MM103) which used your tax dollars to build a Racetrac gas station. Or the Lafayette DDA which chose to hold their 50% tax hike election in the middle of Festival International!
You have probably heard the cliché: we don’t have a revenue problem; we have a priorities (spending) problem at all levels of government. This is no different. In a recent poll 70% of those surveyed believe that the state legislature was irresponsible in the preparation and passing of the state budget (Slide 9 / Question 2). In that same poll “improving public education” ranked as the most important priority for the next Governor. However, regardless of how much money has been thrown at government run education systems there has been no significant improvement (Slide 11 / Question 4).
It may not be popular, but the priority of any public education system should be EDUCATION. Not economic development, not cultural indoctrination, and not athletic facilities. While sports and athletic activities are very important for children and young adults, much like band, art, and drama, it IS NOT the primary mission of the education system. They are secondary to education and, as such, should be secondary in funding as well and NOT REQUIRE A TAX INCREASE.
Years ago, parks on the south side of Lafayette Parish were determined to be inadequate for the growing population. The City of Broussard and the City of Youngsville built their own Sports Complexes without waiting for the Parish to make improvements to the existing sites. And the residents of those municipalities paid higher taxes for them. Some will remember the historic flood of 2016, which severely impacted the City of Youngsville. The City decided it could no longer rely solely on a Parish Government that had been derelict in providing adequate drainage. Since that time the City has invested heavily in that area infrastructure. And the residents of those areas faced a higher tax burden for it.
More recently, this year the state legislature, through HB02, allocated taxpayer funded handouts flowing to many entities in Lafayette Parish, including private ones. Examples include:
- Our Lady of Lourdes – $16 million dollars
- Lafayette Central Park, Inc. – $8.8 million dollars (Remember that next time you see an advertisement claiming to be 100% donor funded – You just may be a donor and didn’t know it!)
- Holy Rosary Development – $8.6 million dollars
- Cajundome – $7.2 million dollars (Remember that next time you pay for concessions at an event)
- Catholic Charities – $4.4 million dollars
- Acadiana Center for the Arts – $1 million dollars
- Hospice of Acadiana – $1 million dollars
There isn’t a revenue problem. There is a priorities problem. Raising taxes will never fix the inability of incompetent bureaucrats and elected officials to properly prioritize. It might be a good time to reach out to your Lafayette School Board Member and ask them some prickly questions.