There are several ad valorem taxes on the April 28th ballot in Lafayette Parish. Most of them seem pretty innocuous: public library, juvenile detention center, public roads, and parks. One of these sections has one of the three main taxes providing its funding on this weekend’s ballot.
If you guessed roads, you must not have driven on one recently. Instead, we’re talking about the Lafayette library system.
The three taxes which combine to fund the libraries in Lafayette come to 6.52 mills. The tax on this weekend’s ballot, amounts to 1.61 mills, the smallest of the three.
What makes this an interesting race is the Library isn’t hurting for money. It has nearly $40 million in the bank which has been gradually accumulating over the last 15 years. Even so, they’ve decided to ask voters to approve a $3.7 million annual tax to help maintain their 9 locations for another 10-years. In 2016, the last year they’ve released information for, the three taxes combined to raise nearly $14 million for operations but the library only spent $10 million of it.
That got me wondering why they need that extra $3.7 million per year (conservatively, $37 million over the 10 year life of the tax.)
Considering that $40 million fund balance is almost two years old, knowing if it increased in 2017 seems like a logical question. Based on trending the numbers from the last few years, the new balance formulates to somewhere between $43 and $46 million. To find out for sure I made several attempts at getting the information but all were rebuffed. 2016’s numbers were released on April 13th of 2017. So, by the time the week of April 16th rolled around and the numbers still weren’t available I made a few inquiries.
As it turns out, the financials are being held to the legal limit of April 30th, which happens to be the first business day AFTER the election.
The story gets more interesting.
Some of the library’s tax proponents say they’ve dedicated that $40 million account balance to future projects, and that means it’s not really a surplus. While this is technically true, since 2009 the library has spent only 38% of what it has “planned” on paper. The numbers can be tough to piece together, so here’s an annual breakdown of their projected spending versus actual since 2003.
2016 budget $26,836,443, spent $10,818,914
2015 budget $29,548,788, spent $12,289,646
2014 budget $30,699,856, spent $13,216,366
2013 budget $30,000,787, spent $8,308,347
2012 budget $22,290,374, spent $7,354,440
2011 budget $22,376,666, spent $7,344,848
2010 budget $14,340,264, spent $6,567,887
2009 budget $10,987,903, spent $6,055,280
2008 budget $6,290,618, spent $5,208,439
2007 budget $5,808,693, spent $4,773,887
2006 budget $5,364,660, spent $4,412,792
2005 budget $5,198,580, spent $4,380,238
2004 budget $5,076,741, spent $4,076,380
2003 budget $4,767,014, spent $3,465,954
So, saying that they’ve planned to spend $40 million on future projects doesn’t wash. Another tid-bit we picked up was the big $8.7 million library in Scott was being paid for with bond money and repaid through the library’s separate construction millage, and not coming out of the cash reserves. While we’ve received mixed answers from the administration on this point, it does seem plausible.
The story doesn’t end here, though. There’s one more detail that’s missing and it’s an important one.
The tax proponents are using the same old familiar language: you won’t be paying any more than you already are. Well, it turns out this isn’t entirely true either. Back in 2008, the estimated value of the 1.61 mills was $1,866,000 per year. Today, the ballot language says the same 1.61 mills has DOUBLED in value to 3,665,902.11. That’s not paying the same at all.
At the end of the day, nothing on this library tax adds up. According to the Lafayette library system the $40 million fund balance is “complicated,” no you can’t see our updated financials, and please give us $37 million more. That isn’t a sales pitch that would work in the private sector and it certainly isn’t one which should work on Saturday.