New Lafayette school tax likely on April ballot

Lafayette High School. (Photo Credit: Amanda McElfresh, The Daily Advertiser)

The Lafayette Parish School Board took a step Monday toward putting new property taxes on the ballot.

The plan is to have the 16-mill tax initiative on the April 9 ballot. The board will have to approve a resolution on Dec. 2 to ensure the proposal will definitely appear on the ballot.

The board approved two separate proposals Monday. One is for 14 mills of property tax — 11.5 mills to bond out for construction and 2.5 mills for maintenance. The board approved the proposal 8-0, with Jeremy Hidalgo absent.

In addition, the board decided to put another, 2-mill property tax on the ballot to pay for school safety and security, technology and education innovations, which could include various academic supports and programs.

The facilities tax is expected to generate more than $360 million, if approved. Superintendent Donald Aguillard said the money would pay for the completion of all phases of a new high school near Youngsville, a replacement for Lafayette High, all renovations at L.J. Alleman Middle, a replacement for Carencro Heights Elementary, air-conditioning at all gyms, improvements to all high schools and a replacement for Katherine Drexel Elementary in Broussard. There also could be money for improvements to the W.D. and Mary Baker Smith Career Center.

There is a possibility that list could be tweaked or changed at the Dec. 2 board meeting.

Two years ago, the board used about $30 million in bonds to pay for six construction projects, and is now using about $126 million in bonds for other renovations and improvements. But Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry said the district has done all it can with the money it has available.

“We’re at a point now where we’ve basically maximized our ability, yet we still have $700 million of capital project funds that need to be considered,” Guidry said at Monday’s special meeting.

The board declined to try to put a sales tax proposal on the ballot, mainly because Youngsville cannot levy any more sales taxes without legislative approval. Asking for that approval would have pushed a new tax initiative back until a November 2016 or December 2016 vote.

Board member Justin Centanni said the total millage amount for facilities may not be collected every year if property values in Lafayette Parish increase.

“The millage could go down, because you’re spreading the cost of the debt service around more highly assessed property,” he said. “Very likely, whatever we say we need to collect in the first year, we would never collect it again.”

Several board members acknowledged they will face a challenge in convincing the public to vote for a new tax. In 2011, a nearly $1 billion tax proposal that would have funded facilities and academic programs failed miserably at the polls. The board has not put a new tax on the ballot since.

Board member Tehmi Chassion said he hoped all board members would have meetings in their individual districts, and speak to community organizations about the need for the money. Board member Elroy Broussard agreed, but warned there are other challenges.

“We tried that very same thing a few years ago,” Broussard said. “The only problem we had was the mistrust the public had for us. Hopefully we’ve earned their trust. That was the one piece that was missing. Maybe we can correct that as a new board and bring the trust back to the community.”

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