First the parish’s Library Board and now mosquito abatement officials are taking heat from the Baton Rouge Metro Council over how they plan to spend tax money that voters have dedicated to them.
The Metro Council narrowly approved this week the mosquito abatement program spending $600,000 to plan a new building that is estimated to cost upward of $8 million. Mosquito abatement Director Todd Walker said they have saved up overtime for the expanded facility with room for their two airplanes, 14 spray trucks and 60 employees.
The mosquito abatement district collected a 1.41-mill dedicated tax in 2014, and, like the library system, must receive Metro Council approval before using dedicated money to fund large projects. Though the council voted 7-5 to approve the $600,000 for the initial design of the project, Walker will have to return to the Metro Council once it’s time to fund the construction of the building.
Convincing the Metro Council a second time could be difficult.
“You’re caught in a bad political dilemma right now because we’re looking for money for facilities and other buildings and to say we’re going to spend $8, $9, $10 million dollars on a mosquito abatement building — it’s not something I can justify to my constituents,” said Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe. Loupe voted against approving the funding.
“I respect your opinion sir, but I’m looking at the health and well-being of the taxpayers of this parish,” Walker responded. “Bottom line is disease control and prevention.”
Walker said the new facility would be on Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport’s property on Veterans Memorial Boulevard and would include hangars for the mosquito abatement airplanes. The planes are currently housed in hangars at the airport.
The new facility would span about 5 acres. It also would include a secure area for the chemicals used when spraying for mosquitoes.
The current mosquito abatement building is near the proposed new location, near the Parish Prison on Lt. Gen. Ben Davis Jr. Avenue. Walker said the current facility is too small, with desks and workers spilling into hallways, and he added that it has leaks and has problems with rust.
Councilman Ryan Heck also questioned the need for the new building, but Council members Trae Welch, Ronnie Edwards and Chauna Banks-Daniel stood up for the mosquito abatement program and complimented their work.
Welch, an airport commissioner, said the new building would be a boon for the airport because it would help them develop land and make them more marketable.
“I really appreciate the attitude and the spirit of customer service of your staff, your response time; I believe you’re an example of the way government should operate,” Edwards said. “… I believe this is a reward for a job well done.”
The East Baton Rouge Parish Library System — which also collects a dedicated property tax and saves up to build new projects rather than bonding money — has faced similar criticisms from the Metro Council.
Metro Council members, led by Heck, have questioned the library’s pay-as-you-go spending habits and the system’s more than $60 million cash balance. The library has defended itself by saying the cash balance includes money for two new libraries, renovations to others and money to cover insurance and flood premiums.
The Library Board recently voted to ask for voters to approve a higher tax than what they are currently paying in an election next fall, a move several council members have sworn not to support.
Walker, from the mosquito abatement district also said they would use a pay-as-you-go system for their new building rather than bonding it. He said the district has $10.3 million in reserves available for the building.
“If we gave $10 million to this council right now and let them all pick what they wanted to use it for, I don’t believe a hangar for your airplanes would be what any of us would pick,” Loupe said.