Mayor-President Kip Holden is making another attempt to persuade the Metro Council to pass his $748 million capital improvements tax proposal on to East Baton Rouge Parish voters in November.
On Wednesday, just a week after the council voted 9-3 to delete the tax plan from its agenda, Holden put the tax and bond proposal on the Aug. 10 agenda.
“I want the chance to do what we were denied last time,” Holden said. “To present it to the people.”
Also Wednesday, council members questioned city-parish Department of Public Works officials in a committee meeting about the 78 bridges included in the tax package and recommended for replacement.
Holden has used bridges as a major selling point in his latest attempt to pass the capital improvements package, calling the bridge replacements a public safety emergency that will protect lives.
Aug. 10 is the last scheduled council meeting before the deadline to submit November election items to the State Bond Commission for approval.
On July 27, the council swiftly deleted the tax proposal from the agenda’s list of introductions. Items are introduced, as a formality and without introduction, two weeks before they’re voted on.
Since Holden did not have to formally introduce the tax proposal, he was able to place it directly on the Aug. 10 agenda.
This time, since the tax proposal is an agenda item, the council will have to allow the public and the mayor to speak.
Seven votes needed
Holden said he will try to meet with council members and address their concerns about the tax proposal.
“We’ll see what questions we can answer for them in the hopes of trying to forge at least a coalition of seven (council members) who will say let’s send this to the people,” he said.
Holden needs seven council votes to send the tax proposal to the November ballot.
On July 27, council members C. Denise Marcelle, Tara Wicker and Joel Boé voted against deleting the tax proposal from the agenda.
Council members Trae Welch, Ulysses “Bones” Addison, Chandler Loupe, Scott Wilson, Ronnie Edwards, Donna Collins-Lewis, Mike Walker, Alison Gary and Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois voted in favor of deleting item.
Loupe said Wednesday he does not think reintroducing the tax package will make a difference.
Both he and Boé will be out of town for the Aug. 10 vote. “I just don’t think he has the votes,” Loupe said.
Collins-Lewis said she’s going to the meeting with an open mind.
Since the last vote, she’s received feedback from residents about the tax package and she said she will consider that information when she has to vote again next week.
Collins-Lewis also said she would be more open to sending the tax proposal to voters, if the administration can show her that the election costs for the city-parish would be low.
John Carpenter, chief administrative officer for Holden, said the costs to participate in the November election would be “a fraction” of the $400,000 it would cost to hold a special election as a lone item.
Holden said he just wants the opportunity to be able to make his case before the council.
“As long as I have made the case for why we are seeking this funding for the bond issue then I’m satisfied,” he said. “Then I’ll have done the job as I felt the people expect me to do as mayor.”
How many bridges?
Holden said the state-mandated closure of the North Flannery Road Bridge over Lively Bayou on Tuesday is an example that the capital improvement funding is necessary.
“We can not afford to wait because the clock is ticking down on us,” he said.
Council members on Wednesday afternoon took issue with rhetoric used by Holden in past weeks to describe the parish’s bridge problems.
Loupe asked interim DPW Director William Daniel to address Holden’s comment last week to the media when he stated that the council is “playing Russian roulette with the lives and safety” of the parish residents by not allowing the tax proposal to go to voters.
“We’re not playing Russian roulette,” Daniel said. “We will not let the public travel over bridges that are unsafe.”
But DPW officials cautioned that while there are checks in place to identify dangerous bridges, the structures are all about 50 years old and their conditions can change rapidly and to some degree, unpredictably.
Daniel also said he expects as many as three bridges to be shut down per year.
Councilman Welch reminded DPW officials of two bridges in Baker closed in recent years and given a $1 million price tag to replace by the city-parish.
Welch said Baker sought a private company, which repaired both bridges for $47,000.
Daniel responded that DPW can and does fix bridges when possible.
But he emphasized the bridges are at the end of their lives, so repairs are only a temporary solution.
“If you have a 50-year-old car that breaks and you replace the water pump, you still have a 50-year-old car,” Deputy Public Works Director Bryan Harmon said after the meeting.
Welch also criticized the tax proposal because he said it only addresses 78 of 200 bridges with timber substructures that will eventually need to be replaced. He also said it ignores continued maintenance costs for most of the infrastructure projects.
Daniel said the tax proposal would pay for the 78 weakest bridges within seven to 10 years, while continuing to compete for state funds and federal funds to replace the other bridges in the future.
“Not to say that we couldn’t have done 200 bridges (in the tax proposal), but we didn’t think that was something we needed at this time,” he said. “Over the next 20 years we can take care of the rest with money from other sources.”
Without financing from the mayor’s tax plan, Harmon said, DPW only receives about $1.2 million a year from state funds to replace bridges, which cost about $1 million on average.
DPW uses operational funds to handle maintenance and repairs.
Councilman Walker asked after the meeting why DPW is not using its $10 million reserve fund to address bridge repairs.
Daniel said the reserve fund is less than 5 percent of the overall DPW budget and must be saved for emergencies, such as hurricanes.
This is Holden’s third attempt at a capital improvements tax package.
Voters have rejected similar proposals: a $901 million bond issue in 2009 and a $989 million bond issue in 2008.
Mayor’s Tax Proposal:
Mayor-President Kip Holden’s $748 million tax and bond package will be split into three components for East Baton Rouge Parish voters to choose from, pending Metro Council approval. The tax package will be financed by issuing 30-year bonds that are expected to be paid off in 20 years:
• $298 million for public safety improvements including a Parish Prison, juvenile services facility and public safety complex. It calls for a quarter-cent sales tax and 0.85-mill property tax increase.
• $418 million for infrastructure improvements including a City Hall renovation, traffic signal replacements, drainage improvements, bridge replacements and a downtown parking garage. It calls for a quarter-cent sales tax and a 2.05-mill property tax increase.
• $32 million for economic development and recreation for the renovation and expansion of the Baton Rouge River Center. It calls for a quarter-cent sales tax that would elapse after two years.