Lafayette Parish officials want voters to rededicate a parishwide property tax approved for arts, culture and recreation in 2017 to fire protection in unincorporated areas and to parish roads and bridges.

The rededication is on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Parish Councilman Kevin Naquin supports the measure which, he said, will provide more money for fire protection in every fire department in the parish, including the city of Lafayette. Naquin said on Tuesday residents have asked what the CREATE (culture, recreation, entertain, arts, tourism and related economies) initiative has done, especially outside the city of Lafayette.

Kate Durio, who ran the CREATE initiative until Josh Guillory was elected mayor president, said several tools were created that would set the groundwork for investing CREATE funds in programs that promise a good return on investment . Some of those foundational tools, she said, were ready to launch but were halted when Guillory took office in January and abolished the CREATE program.

In November 2017, voters parish wide approved a .25-mill property tax for CREATE, part of a ballot proposition that included rededicating money to drainage. The tax generates about $563,000 a year.

The proposal on the Nov. 3 ballot would rededicate .175 mills to fire protection “in Lafayette Parish,” and .75 mills to roads and bridges in the parish.

Property owners in the city of Lafayette already pay taxes dedicated to providing fire protection in Lafayette. They also pay the CREATE tax and would continue to pay the tax if it is rededicated to parish fire protection. 

In 2018, the former City-Parish Council created a new fire district for unincorporated areas of the parish and in December of 2018, asked voters in the district to approve a 10-mill property tax dedicated to providing fire protection for unincorporated areas. Voters defeated the tax by 363 votes. 

The fire rating for unincorporated areas rose from a five to a six after the tax was rejected, Lafayette Fire Chief Robert Benoit said, which increased insurance prices for property owners not in a municipality.

Benoit and Naquin said the perception that the tax, if rededicated to parish fire protection would not benefit the city of Lafayette, is false.

At one time, Benoit said, the parish paid the city of Lafayette $100,000 a year to respond to fire calls in unincorporated areas. That has dwindled as parish funds have dwindled, falling to $10,000 a year a few years ago, he said.

The Lafayette Fire Department and departments in all the parish’s municipalities will share in the rededicated tax, Benoit said, because they all cover fires in the unincorporated areas. When the volunteer fire departments in unincorporated areas are able to hire firefighters and purchase equipment, he said, it also will relieve the cities from having to respond.

Durio has doubts about that, but added, “Even so it doesn’t negate the fact that those in unincorporated areas voted down the ability pay for their own fire protection. It’s irresponsible to ask city residents who already paying for their own protection when they’re not willing to pay for it themselves.”

If the rededication is approved, Naquin said, the CREATE tax would no longer exist, but money remains in the fund that can be used for some expenses. Eventually, though, that money will run out.

“I am definitely and always will be in support of arts and culture,” said Naquin, a professional musician. “But at a time when we’re struggling economy-wise, instead of proposing a new tax, let’s utilize the funds to benefit the entire parish and pave some roads.”

CREATE, Naquin said, never lived up to what was promised, especially in unincorporated areas of the parish.

Durio said much was done to lay the groundwork, but just as a major project, a compilation of thousands of artists, musicians, venues, philanthropists, nonprofits and such with an online portal accessible worldwide, was set to launch in January, Guillory held it up. The city received a National Endowment for the Arts grant to help fund the project, she said, which could be in jeopardy if the project never launches.

It cost about $100,000 to create the portal and for software licenses for Salesforce, she said, to bring a business approach to arts and recreation.

“I believe that the failure to launch this portal is being used as a political weapon to show create wasn’t doing anything, but they’re holding the keys to make it useful,” Durio said. “We have a responsibility to publish this site.”

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