The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council on Wednesday unanimously approved an agreement to give IBM $4.5 million to build offices and create jobs downtown, but not until after a few council members challenged the Mayor’s Office to take a close look at its spending priorities.
The city-parish’s allocation is part of a partnership with state government and the Wilbur Foundation — which is a subsidiary of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation — providing economic incentives for IBM to create 800 jobs in Baton Rouge.
The funds will be divided into three payments of $1.5 million over three years, with this year’s allocation coming from undesignated reserve funds. The remaining $3 million will be budgeted in the 2014 and 2015 general fund budgets.
Council members said they fully support the IBM project, but before the vote, some members reminded the mayor’s staff about pending funding requests they had made for projects in their districts.
Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis asked William Daniel, chief administrative officer for Mayor-President Kip Holden about the status of more than $600,000 in budget requests made by the women of the council at the end of 2012 that would provide funding for the elderly and several summer youth programs.
“I appreciate the value that IBM brings to the parish,” Collins-Lewis said. “I would also appreciate you looking at the things we requested that impact our districts. I want kids in our communities to one day be able to get a job at IBM, so whatever we can do on the front end to make that happen is what I want to see in our community.”
Collins-Lewis and the three other women serving on the council represent lower-income areas of the parish and are often fighting for funds for programs to benefit children and families in their districts.
Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel said the city-parish appears to have an “open pocket book when it comes to economic development” while constituents in her district “are falling by the wayside.”
“How in the scheme of the administration do you compare these 800 jobs with working with the poor and the youth and elderly?” she asked.
Holden did not attend the council meeting, but Daniel responded that economic projects like IBM and programs supporting the poor and elderly are both priorities of Holden’s administration.
“How do I compare them to the IBM project? I don’t make that comparison,” he said. “The mayor wants the city to be great, and one measure of a great city is how you treat the poor and elderly.”
Daniel said he is scheduling meetings with each of the council members who made a budget supplement request to determine what needs can be funded. A budget supplement is the means for allocating revenue during a budget year that comes in higher than originally projected.
Councilman John Delgado told his colleagues that no one’s constituents or children could grow up to work at IBM unless they approved the deal.
The city-parish’s funds will flow through Louisiana Economic Development and be combined with the state’s $78.5 million contribution.
The contract provides that if IBM falls short of performance benchmarks, funds will be returned to the state and city-parish.
The Metro Council also deferred for 60 days a measure that would give control over the city-parish’s community centers to the Mayor’s Office instead of the respective Metro Council members. The community centers provide social services in some low-income areas of the parish and are found in five districts.
The proposal to move the money came from Mayor-Pro Tem Chandler Loupe and Delgado, who do not have community centers in their districts.
The four councilwomen who have community centers in their districts have expressed frustration at the proposal and questioned the motives of their colleagues in attempting to strip them of authority over the centers.
Loupe said he wanted to increase accountability of the funds. He proposed deferring action for 60 days to allow time for further review.
“The funding for the community centers does not change, the dollar amount does not change,” Loupe stressed.
Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards said the council members who keep offices in the community centers are “on the front lines for their constituents” and are more attuned to the financial needs of the centers.