Lafayette Parish JailWill passing another jail tax help the parish budget?
- The proposed new jail tax is $6,694,243 per year.
- It DOES NOT replace the existing jail tax (worth $4,211,369)
- Last year, that tax was only $562,299 short of funding everything.
- If this tax passes, the jail will have an extra $6 million a year.
- Are they setting-up a rededication scheme, like they did with CREATE?
Even if we completely remove the jail from the Courthouse Complex, it doesn’t need $6,694,243 per year in additional revenue. It really is that simple. If that tax had been collected last year, the jail would have extracted an additional $6 million from our local economy that it just doesn’t need. The courthouse’s annual surplus would also be $600,000 higher, or a $3.1 million.
Would passing a new jail tax help the parish budget?
This is an easy “no.” The parish general fund does not contribute a single dime to the jail’s budget. The narrative that we must add another tax because one tax is insufficient to cover the jail’s entire expense is nothing more than sophistry. The jail is being fully funded without tapping into the parish general fund because it already has two taxes.
Way back when the parish jail was a two-story building, it was fully funded as part of the courthouse complex & jail tax. You’ve probably heard that we can’t continue to fund a five-story jail with a two-story tax. The problem with that tale is it has been told and addressed already. It resulted in the creation of a second tax to cover the three additional stories. All of this is metaphor, of course, as the parish jail doesn’t track expenses based on the floor they occurred. It was simply the idea that more space required more money for maintenance, and way back when, the voters agreed.
The jail’s second tax has several names.
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor refers to it as the Detention & Correctional Facility tax, but various parish documents generally refer to it as some variation of Adult Correctional Facility Maintenance. It is its own account, into which the parish transfers monies intended for jail related expenses. Last year, property taxes for the top three stories totaled $4,211,369. The state chipped in $118,478, and the Courthouse Complex & Jail tax contributed $562,299 for the bottom two stories. All told, the jail cost just under $5 million to operate (not counting staff, which is contributed without charge by the Sheriff’s office.) Because this tax is something of a sub-set of the Courthouse Complex & Jail tax, it’s designed to end the year with a zero balance.
Alternatively, the Courthouse Complex tax includes maintenance costs for several structures. We don’t have the complete list of every building included, but we know it includes the courthouse itself, the bottom two stories of the parish jail, the 1010 Lafayette St. building (which holds the Tax Assessor’s office, the Sheriff’s property tax division, and a few other offices), and the Buchanan Garage. That tax brought in $5,186,452 last year. For all buildings but the jail, expenses totaled $2,315,613. From a surplus of $3,065,769, they paid out the obligation for the first two stories of the jail, $562,299, and another $74,646 was transferred to the City of Lafayette’s general fund. We’ll assume that $74,646 was a legitimate, parish expense that was originally covered by the city and reimbursed by the parish. After all that, the courthouse complex had $2,428,824 left over. While having that large of a single, annual surplus is new, it represents a trend that’s helped the courthouse complex fund accumulate a balance of $7,815,088.
A large fund balance isn’t good stewardship.
While some may be tempted to applaud the courthouse for having large sums of money left over, there are areas inside the courthouse that desperately need remodeling. Specifically, the third, fourth, and fifth floors, which are still in need of asbestos remediation and haven’t been updated or well maintained since the 1980s. Even the windows don’t appear to have been cleaned in years.
As we’ve previously noted, the Buchanan St. Garage has also been poorly maintained for years. In fact, on Friday, October 12th, 2018, the garage was closed indefinitely due to lack of attention. While the $7.8 million fund balance may not be able to address all of these needs, it could certainly do more than sitting unspent in an account. That fund balance is also a reminder to voters that $6.7 million in new taxes must not all that be necessary.
Lafayette Parish November Tax Election