Who’s got more drive and political clout locally and in Baton Rouge?
Who’s got the least blemished political history?
Who knows what’s best for Lafayette’s future?
Those questions framed Monday night’s city-parish president debate hosted by the Acadiana Press Club at South Louisiana Community College.
State Rep. Joel Robideaux and Dee Stanley, chief administrative officer for Lafayette Consolidated Government, took questions from a panel of local journalists.
Here’s what they had to say:
What is your opinion on TIFs, PILOTS and similar financial instruments? Can they be used judiciously, as many believe was the case with the Target-anchored development at Louisiana Avenue and I-10? Was Costco’s approved deal considered an act of “cronyism”?
Robideaux: He said supports TIFs like the one established on Louisiana Avenue that was solely to “build infrastructure at that exchange.”
“It was a perfect example of what a TIF should be used for” he said. He said he supported legislation for certain TIFs. “There are times they should and were appropriate. There are times they are not appropriate.”
Costco’s deal was called a payment in lieu of tax, or PILOT, which is legal. “The problem with Costco is they were singled out. Costco is what I am not convinced was the best use of a PILOT.”
Stanley: “I do not support anything where private dollars go to support something that is not a public service. I support it if it benefits public roads and infrastructure.”
“A PILOT is a payment in lieu of tax. There was no cronyism. The owner paid to build a road the public is going to town. It was the PILOT used at the AT&T call center, which brought hundreds of jobs. It brought the center from Baton Rouge.”
Did you sign the One Acadiana pledge to support and advance its goals for Lafayette? Why would you as someone who might be soon one of the parish’s top elected officials, agree to advance the goals of a private organization that’s not elected by voters?
Robideaux: “No. I did not.” He noted Gov. Bobby Jindal’s loyalty to Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, which he said “handcuffed” government decision-making. He said he agrees with some of the regional chamber’s pledge.
“I’m not going to allow a private entity to tell me to sign this pledge and then three years ago, ‘Hey this is what we meant when wrote that.’”
Stanley: Yes. “I don’t make decisions on what I am going to do based on something that’s framed.” He brought a copy of the pledge, which calls for the revitalization of Lafayette’s urban core, commitment to improve infrastructure, fixing the charter, reduction of traffic and reserving roads and bridges.
“Is there a single person in this room who’s opposed to that?”
City-parish budget projections for the coming year paint a dim picture for the future of road and drainage work in the unincorporated areas of the parish. How do you plan to address this issue?
Stanley: “I think the climate has changed. You can’t get an 8 or 10 mill property tax passed. There needs to be a feasibility study, temporary tax. You need cooperation from the municipalities, the city and Lafayette’s unincorporated areas.
“Then you have to build what you say you are going to build. It’s going to have to come from tax or TIF’s.”
He said the administration can’t depend on the state for funds. “My plan is top what we can locally to take care of our own.”
Robideaux: “Parish road money comes from the state.” Need the funding? “Guess what? You need to go to the state.”
He said $200 million in state funds has been spent in Lafayette since he was elected. “We need someone who is willing to go there and bring some of that back.”
The conversation on economic development is often focused on the south side while existing infrastructure in the city core, especially the northside, is neglected. What can LCG do to encourage commercial and residential development in the city’s north side?
Stanley: He embraces One Acadiana commitment to revitalizing Lafayette’s urban core and has been working closely with the downtown development authority. He noted three tech companies looking to operate downtown.
Providing housing is one of the key elements to that revitalization, he said.
“The urban core needs a grocery store and movie theater, but first you need people who want to live there.”
Robideaux: He said blighted properties and shuttered businesses need to be addressed, especially in the parish gateway corridors.
“We need to embrace the areas in the community that need our help the most.”
Stanley accused Robideaux of neglecting those state-owned corridors while he was in office.
“Glad you are focusing on it now. For the last 12 years you didn’t focus on it at all,” Stanley said, adding that the local government has spent millions of dollars to cut grass on state property.
Robideaux said other cities along I-10 face the same problems and deal with them.
“Scott and Breaux Bridge haven’t blamed the state,” he replied.
Both of you said in a forum last week that residents should not be penalized for living outside the city. But we’ve seen developers build hundreds of new homes outside the city with sub-par roads then get annexed and the inadequacies built into those subdivisions become a financial burden on the city and its taxpayers. So what do you propose to solve the problem?
Robideaux: “We were asked if residents should pay an impact fee. People choose to where to live based on several reasons,” he said, sometimes to be near retail or a school.
“If the city determines it make financial sense, why not let the developer proceed?”
Stanley: Services like drainage and utilities are determined through LCG departments.
“Those services like drainage are determined in meetings. There are decisions made on the front to lessen the impact.”
Most agree consolidated government isn’t really working properly. A charter commission a few years ago spent a lot of time studying the problem and ended up asking voters if they wanted to deconsolidate. Voters said no and the problems persist. What proposed solutions will you bring to the council and voters to address the problems?
Stanley: It’s a broken funding system, he said. “Consolidation in the 1990’s didn’t fix that at all. In fact, it made it worse.”
Some positive aspects of consolidation are one recreation department and public works department. One solution: Fix the charter, he said.
Robideaux: “It’s going to take the council in collaboration with the president, in collaboration with those elected officials in other municipalities. But that discussion has not been allowed to occur.”
What question do you wish we would have asked your opponent?
Stanley to Robideaux: How did the legislature save higher education during this most recent legislative session?
“They were facing a $211 million cut. We reduced that about $60 million. That cut would have been devastating. More programs would have been cut and none of that happened. For this session we did what we had to do to save higher ed.”
Robideaux to Stanley: Why was a pay raise for the city-parish president placed on the budget?
“The charter allows the same thing for council members — 10 percent. Some take 10 percent. Some take 2 percent. Some take nothing,” he said.
“I’m not taking it. Not only am I not taking it, I’m taking a $6,000 percent pay cut. It’s not about salary. It’s about service.”