A resolution to create a committee to study law enforcement needs and a public safety tax in East Baton Rouge Parish has support from the majority of the Metro Council, its author said Monday.
The full council is expected to vote on the creation of a committee made up of mostly law enforcement on Aug. 10.
The “Crime Fighting/Prevention Committee” will seek the input of the various law enforcement agencies to determine the public safety needs of the parish and recommend a tax to finance the plan.
Pending approval, the committee will include Councilman Trae Welch, and representatives from offices of the mayor-president, sheriff, district attorney, constable and the police departments of Baton Rouge, Baker, Zachary and Central.
The conversation began last week with Welch, Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker and Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis. But the item will be sponsored on the agenda by at least eight of 12 council members.
Walker reached out to the rest of the council asking them to each co-sponsor the resolution to demonstrate the council’s unity in this matter.
“It shows that the council’s No. 1 priority is crime fighting,” he said. “The overwhelming majority of this council is in tune with the people.”
The co-sponsors of the resolution as of Monday will be: Walker, Collins-Lewis, Welch, Chandler Loupe, Ulysses “Bones” Addison, Alison Gary, Ronnie Edwards and Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois, according to Walker’s headcount.
The discussion about creating a crime-fighting tax was born out of some council members’ dissatisfaction with Mayor-President Kip Holden’s $748 million tax proposal, which was to include $298 million worth of public safety capital projects.
Holden’s capital improvements tax package — using a combination of sales taxes and property taxes — would have provided a new Parish Prison, a juvenile services facility and a shared headquarters for the Sheriff’s Office and city police in addition to other sweeping infrastructure and economic development projects.
Neither Sheriff Sid Gautreaux nor District Attorney Hillar Moore III was consulted about the mayor’s tax and bond proposal.
While both agree there is a need for the projects included in the plan, Gautreaux and Moore have said Holden’s proposal would not effectively address crime.
Councilwoman Edwards said collaboration is “elementary protocol” for creating a tax package to bring to voters.
“Unfortunately that didn’t happen,” she said. “But this (committee) is an opportunity for that to take place.”
Baker Police Chief Mike “Snapper” Knaps said he wanted to be included in Holden’s tax package from the start because Baker is also in need of a new police headquarters.
“We were not approached as to what our needs were as to public safety in the city of Baker,” Knaps said of Holden’s proposal. “The only way this is going to work is for everyone to be on the same page with a goal that is reasonable for everybody.”
Holden did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
The Mayor’s Office has not been contacted by the council yet, but Welch said he hopes Holden will participate in the committee.
“This isn’t one person’s bond,” he said. “It’s a bond for the entire parish.”
Last week, the Metro Council effectively killed the mayor’s tax package by voting 9-3 to decline to allow it to be introduced and considered on the council agenda.
Councilman Scott Wilson and the co-sponsors of Walker’s resolution voted against introducing the mayor’s tax package.
Council members Joel Boe, Tara Wicker and C. Denise Marcelle voted for introduction of the mayor’s tax package.
Holden can reintroduce it at the council’s Aug. 10 meeting, or in a special meeting called before Aug. 16, which is the deadline for November election items to be submitted to the State Bond Commission.
The committee’s alternative public safety tax could be introduced to voters as early as April, council members have said.
Both the sheriff and the district attorney have the authority to ask voters to approve property taxes for their operations.
However, the Metro Council would need to approve election items that affect the city-parish, such as a headquarters for city police and the Parish Prison, Council Administrator Brian Mayers said.
Mayers said he could not recall any other parish tax that had been initiated by the Metro Council.
Neither could Walker, who said the effort is indicative of a divergence in the visions of the Mayor’s Office and the Metro Council.
“Since there is a difference in direction between the administration and the council, the council needs to step up and set priorities,” he said.
The Metro Council’s rejection of Holden’s proposal marks the third failed attempt at passing a capital improvements tax package to be supported by issuing bonds.
The most recent plan called for a three-quarters of a cent sales tax increase and 2.9 mills of property taxes collectively, but the plan was to be split into three components for voters to consider.