Last week, the Iberia Parish Council voted unanimously to reject levying franchise fees on utility vendors after council members were targeted in a phone and social media blitz against the proposals.
Most of those arguments, surprisingly, came from self-styled conservatives who seem to think that screaming “no new taxes!” is the baseline of conservative thought.
Well, it’s not. Conservatives believe in smaller government. They also believe that the government should live within its means. As a political philosophy that does not mean no taxes. It means reasonable ones, capable of supporting the level of government the governed desire.
The current fiscal crunch is not new for Iberia Parish, nor is it unexpected. Ever since oil prices took a dive at the end of 2015, observers have watched the royalty revenue for the parish drop.
Over the last five years, there have been massive cuts in services across the parish. The Public Works Department now has half the people it did in 2016. Even with those cuts, the parish has been methodically clearing drainage ditches and canals, some which had not been touched in decades, to improve drainage.
Inside the administration, there are fewer people working on the fourth floor of the Iberia Parish Courthouse. Some positions have remained unfilled, with other employees picking up the slack. New computers have been put on hold. Training and travel have been cut. Annual pay raises have been skipped. Parish vehicles are being kept on the road rather than being replaced.
So some of the things that reflect conservative values are being done. But another conservative value is to pay your bills. And without more revenue, the parish may soon face the choice of paying its debt service and vendors or reducing headcount — a euphemism for cutting jobs and laying off personnel, which will again reduce services.
One interesting observation from the debate over the franchise fees is that no one opposed to the fees has yet suggested another option. Over the last five years, the council and administration have tried to resolve the budgetary woes. For example, an effort to create a separate tax to pay for roads was put on the ballot in 2018, which would have not only reduced the stress on the parish’s general fund, it would have allowed much needed maintenance on the parish’s roads to go on.
But voters shot that down, too. In fact, many of the same voices which took to social media to attack the franchise fees are the same ones who helped rally against the road tax, who also yell about the parish’s roads being in deplorable condition.
You can’t have it both ways. In surrounding parishes, there are road millages. That’s why when you drive out of Iberia Parish and into St. Martin Parish, your car stops bucking and shimmying on the roads there. The residents pay a road millage to pay for their maintenance.That also means they have the matching funds available to have work done on their state roads as well.
Millage rates in Iberia Parish are about three-fourths of those in St. Martin or St. Mary parishes, and about 80 percent of those collected in Lafayette Parish. So until the residents and businesses of the parish pay enough to fund infrastructure like that found in those parishes, it’s not going to happen here, no matter how creatively the budget is cut. Which mena Iberia Parish will continue to fight for new business and industry with one arm tied behind its back.