Lafayette Parish residents will be deciding on Election Day whether to renew a 5-mill property tax that produces about $11.7 million a year for school construction, maintenance and facility improvements.
The tax, which comes up for renewal every 10 years, is set to expire in 2021, and Lafayette Parish School Board members say the school system is counting on voters to renew it Tuesday.
“With the economy the way it’s been and the uncertainty we’re facing, the loss of this revenue would be devastating to the school district,” Board President Britt Latiolais said.
This money has been used for facility improvements, capital projects and self-funded construction like recently added covered pavilions at elementary schools and classroom wing additions at nine schools across the district.
“We’re working hard,” Latiolais said. “We’re trying to spend the taxpayers’ money in a smart way.”
Facility funding crucial to replacing ‘portables’
These construction dollars are essential to the board’s mission to eliminate the need for temporary classrooms at Lafayette Parish schools, now and in the future, board members said.
Adding the new permanent classroom wings has reduced the need for portable buildings by about half since 2016, board member Justin Centanni said. Just over 200 classrooms remain in portable buildings, compared to about 400 in 2015, he said.
“That doesn’t happen overnight,” Centanni said. “It’s not all of them, but it’s half of what it used to be.”
And the school board has been saving money to replace Lafayette High, Prairie Elementary and Carencro Heights Elementary, which have “portables.” In 2017-18, Prairie had more temporary classrooms than permanent ones — 35 versus 26, according to data collected by the district.
The board has been transferring surplus money each year to a special reserve fund since a sales tax proposal failed on the ballot in 2017.
At the rate they’re saving, Latiolais and Centanni expect to have all three schools at least under construction during this board term, which ends in 2023.
If this millage renewal fails, it would impact those plans.
“One thing this money has been important for is the money put aside for replacing the three schools,” Centanni said. “If (this renewal) didn’t pass, that $4.5 million we’re putting aside every year we would have to look at. It would have an impact.”
The millage is not the only funding source for facility improvements. Sometimes money for projects comes out of the general fund, Centanni pointed out. But it is a significant source.
The loss of this revenue, which could total $117.5 million over the next decade, would affect capital projects and facility maintenance of schools and, in turn, other parts of the budget, Centanni said.
“It would mean we would not be able to improve our facilities to the tune of $11.75 million a year for 10 years,” Centanni said. “This is not the only money we use on facilities. Some comes from the general fund. Any of that money that we would wish to make up we would have to cut from somewhere else.”
Breaking down the proposition
The proposition on the ballot is to “continue to levy” the 5-mill property tax annually from 2022 to 2031. It is not a new tax.
The revenue is for the entire Lafayette Parish School System, called “Consolidated School District No. 1 of the Parish of Lafayette” on the ballot.
A millage is paid by all residential and commerical property owners whose property value exceeds the limit of Homestead Exemption, which currently is $75,000.
For example, the owner of a $75,000 home in Lafayette Parish would pay nothing; the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $12.50 a year; and owners of a $150,000 would pay $37.50 a year for this millage.
For commercial property owners, a business valued at $100,000 would require a $50 annual tax payment. A $1 million business would cost $500 a year for this tax.
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Lafayette Parish School Board: Tax renewal essential to facility improvements, eliminating ‘portables’