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Lafayette’s city and parish councils approved last minute plans to spend $1 million on police training weeks after officers killed a Black man and $1.75 million on parks and recreation in a $600 million budget for next year.

The 2021 budget is Lafayette Consolidated Government’s first under Mayor-President Josh Guillory and the separate city and parish councils. The new setup of split councils proved factious during early budget hearings.

After a contentious two-month budget process this summer that prompted Lafayette’s City Council to hire its own special attorney to advocate for its budgetary autonomy, next year’s budget was passed Thursday night with a series of quiet compromises.

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Guillory’s proposed budget included major cuts to arts, culture and recreation spending after his administration projected dramatic declines in sales tax revenue for the city of Lafayette because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those projections have proven to be largely overestimated. 

Guillory’s proposed budget included $4.6 million more in spending than in revenue for the city of Lafayette next year, down from the $18 million gap he inherited as mayor-president in January to leave the city with an estimated $33 million in cash reserves in next year’s budget. 

Accumulated changes throughout the budget process this summer will likely impact the size of that reserve, but Lafayette Consolidated Government staff have not yet released estimates for the overall impact of budgetary changes. 

Lafayette Mayor President Josh Guillory speaking at press conference at City Hall. Wednesday, May 13, 2020. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE/USA TODAY Network)

The same is true for Lafayette Parish’s cash reserves, which are projected to have just $94,000 unspent funds next year after expenses are planned to exceed revenue by just over $607,000. 

The new budget will go into effect Nov. 1. 

Funding restored for Parks and Rec

Chief among Thursday’s compromises was a change to a proposal by City Councilman Glenn Lazard that originally sought to restore $3.5 million in funding for Lafayette Consolidated Government’s Parks and Recreation Department. 

The $3.5 million plan was set for a vote Thursday night, but instead Lazard cut his request in half during the meeting to $1.75 million, all of which will come from the city’s $33 million cash reserves. 

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Lazard’s plan specifies that $1 million of the reduced total will go to capital improvements for parks and recreation facilities within Lafayette’s city limits, while $750,000 will go toward retaining parks and rec personnel, 37 of whom were laid off by Guillory during budget cuts earlier this summer.

Guillory announced the layoffs in July alongside plans to close four recreation centers on Lafayette’s predominantly Black north side, which prompted protests at a following town hall meeting and sustained criticism from advocates for north Lafayette.

Guillory later announced the recreation centers would remain open, and Lazard’s funding move Thursday will help restore staff positions within the department to help the centers’ operations. 

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Glenn Lazard- District 5- Lafayette City Council. Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE/THE ADVERTISER)

The laid off employees will have first claim to the restored positions, though it is unclear how many jobs will be reopened with the restored money.

With that change, Lazard’s proposal was approved without objection by both city and parish councils.

Guillory’s $1 million for police training approved

The councils also approved a recently announced plan by Guillory to spend $1 million on training for officers in the Lafayette Police Department, which Guillory first recommended Tuesday. 

The move comes in response to sustained protests and calls for greater training and accountability for officers following the death of Trayford Pellerin, a 31-year-old Black man shot by police outside a north Lafayette gas station.

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Multiple officers responding to a disturbance call about a man with a knife on Aug. 21 fired at least 17 shots, hitting Pellerin with 10 bullets at close range as he was reaching for a gas station entrance, an independent autopsy found.

Guillory’s request was approved without objection during Thursday’s meeting. 

The funding is coming from city tax dollars that will be reimbursed as part of a $13 million grant of federal CARES Act stimulus funds awarded to Lafayette Consolidated Government in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. 

While the plan’s specifics have not yet been determined, Guillory said he anticipates using the funds for de-escalation and situational awareness training, among other forms of instruction.

Tara Fogleman-Laxey speaks during Mayor President Josh Guillory Town Hall meeting at the Robicheaux Rec Center. Wednesday, July 29, 2020. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE/USA TODAY Network)

“For the public’s peace of mind, this money would be funded through reimbursements from the federal government, so while it would be transferred from our city general fund, there is reimbursement from our federal government,” Guillory said. “Not only is this cost effective, it is very much needed for situational awareness training, de-escalation and other training that would help our community.”

The funding drew praise from activists who have criticized Guillory’s handling of Pellerin’s death at the hands of police, including Tara Fogelman-Laxey who was arrested outside Guillory’s home in August after protesting by grilling in the street. 

On Thursday, Fogleman-Laxey commended Guillory’s efforts for greater funding, but urged him to release more details about what types of training will be included, saying that some forms of training do not prioritize de-escalation tactics for police.

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“With that money, I request, along for my community, a detailed list of exactly what type of training your officers are going to have. Because they’re really stuck on this verbal judo, and clearly our two incidents we’ve had in one month really show that verbal judo does not de-escalate,” she said referring to the violent arrest of a Black teen by Lafayette police two weeks ago after officers punched him repeatedly. 

The councils also reached unanimous consent on a proposal by Lazard to rescind raises planned for Guillory’s staff in next year’s budget, including a $10,000 raise for Guillory’s Chief of Minority Affairs Carlos Harvin, who was appointed in January. 

Though Guillory previously defended the raises as justified despite supporting the councils’ decision to block automatic 2% raises for all city-parish and LUS employees, Lazard said Thursday that the mayor-president agreed to drop the raises. 

“I’ve had some conversations with the administration on this, and he’s on board with it,” Lazard said. 

Lafayette 311 won’t join LUS Fiber

In perhaps the most substantial disagreement of Thursday night’s budget adoption meeting, both councils voted to block Guillory’s plan to move Lafayette’s 311 information service out from under direct oversight of his Chief Administrative Officer Cydra Wingerter and under the administration of LUS Fiber.

City Councilwoman Liz Hebert led the effort to block the move, which shifted the costs of the services onto Fiber and its customers, despite the 311 service’s parishwide service area. 

Hebert urged council members to block the move, but City Councilman Andy Naquin, who cast the sole vote in favor of Guillory’s proposal, and Wingerter argued it would improve efficiency at the 311 call center to be part of Fiber’s organizational infrastructure.

“In our minds, we always knew 311 would go and live in the respective call centers at LUS or Fiber because those call centers are already there,” Wingerter said.

“It made sense to us that they could be with people who are doing like-minded things,” she added.

While many of the councils’ changes to Guillory’s proposed budget were approved, Guillory still retains line item veto power over next year’s budget, with an anticipated deadline of Sep. 29 for any veto of council action on the budget.

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