The Metro Council held off voting Wednesday on how high of a property tax the East Baton Rouge Parish Library system will put on ballots next fall.
Four council members were absent, and those who were present split their votes on two motions to trim the library’s property tax, causing both to fail. The Metro Council will now vote on the library’s proposed property tax at its June 10 meeting.
The library is proposing an 11.1-mill property tax, which is the same property tax voters approved for the system for the last two decades. Many Metro Council members have been openly critical of the 11.1-mill property tax, which would translate into a tax increase for Baton Rouge residents.
The library system currently collects 10.78 mills in property taxes because the 11.1 mills that voters previously approved has been rolled back to keep in line with the costs of rising property values.
Baton Rouge residents who own $200,000 properties and have homestead exemption pay $134.75 a year for the library, according to the Assessor’s Office. If the 11.1-mill tax is approved, bills would rise to $138.75.
The Metro Council has the authority to set the library’s property tax at whatever level the council sees fit. Once the council sets the property tax, voters will have their say in October.
The council appeared poised to shave the library’s proposed property tax but disagreed on how far to trim it. After two members of the public spoke in favor of approving the tax at 11.1 mills and one spoke against it, Councilman Buddy Amoroso proposed lowering the tax to 10.7 mills.
“I want to lower the current millage without really hurting the library,” Amoroso said.
Councilman John Delgado then proposed keeping the tax at the level of 10.78 mills. Delgado said he was more concerned with the library’s future budget projections that show the system would have only a $1.5 million cash balance 10 years from now with an 11.1-mill tax and even less of a cash balance with a smaller tax.
Library Director Spencer Watts, in a statement issued after the council meeting, said it’s important that everyone understand what constitutes cash balance, because much of that money is already committed to projects. He said library administrators will spend the next two weeks discussing and answering questions about how the library’s budget works.
“We don’t need to build a lot of new facilities, but we do need to make sure our buildings are flexible for the future and have those features that best serve the public,” Watts said.
The Metro Council would have needed seven votes to lower the millage. Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe and council members Joel Boé, Tara Wicker and Scott Wilson were not present for the meeting.
Delgado, Chauna Banks-Daniel, C. Denise Marcelle and Ronnie Edwards voted in favor of keeping the property tax at 10.78 mills rather than raising it back to the 11.1 mills previously authorized by voters. Amoroso and Ryan Heck voted against the 10.78-mill tax, and Trae Welch and Donna Collins-Lewis did not vote.
After the motion to lower the tax to 10.78 mills failed, Amoroso, Heck, Edwards and Delgado voted to lower the property tax to 10.7 mills. Banks-Daniel, Collins-Lewis and Marcelle voted against the 10.7-mill tax, and Welch did not vote.
Watts told the Library Board months ago that the staff recommendation for the library tax was 10.7 mills. Early library budget projections showed that a 10.7-mill tax would leave the library with $12.4 million for capital improvements and construction projects, along with a $1.4 million cash balance by 2025.
However, the Library Board voted for the 11.1-mill property tax after some members said they were worried that 10.7 mills would not give the library enough money within 10 years from now.