The Library Board of Control could see a dramatic shift in its political makeup on Wednesday when the Metro Council considers whether to appoint two new members to the seven-person board.
The two members up for reappointment or replacement are Library Board President Tanya Freeman and member Stanford Bardwell. Both Freeman and Bardwell have been outspoken advocates of the library, asking again for an 11.1-mill property tax to be placed on the fall ballot despite Metro Council pressure to lower the tax proposal.
Freeman has sent the Metro Council a letter requesting reappointment, while Bardwell has not. Their possible replacements are two conservative men — Richard Bond, a Republican who failed to make it past the Louisiana House District 66 primary in the Feb. 21 special election, and J Hudson, who worked on Paul Dietzel II’s unsuccessful congressional campaign in the fall and who was a personal assistant to Herman Cain during his 2012 failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
The Library Board has been under attack from the Metro Council in recent weeks ever since voting 4-2 to ask for the same 11.1-mill property tax that voters approved in 1995 and 2005. Right now, the tax is at 10.78 mills because of rollbacks made when property values increased.
The new tax would translate to higher property tax bills.
Baton Rouge residents with $150,000 homes that are subject to homestead exemption pay $80.85 a year in library taxes, while those with $200,000 homes pay $134.75 a year for the library, according to the Assessor’s Office. If the tax increase goes through, bills would rise to $83.25 a year for owners of $150,000 homes and $138.75 a year for owners of $200,000 homes.
But many Metro Council members have vowed to oppose placing the tax proposal on the ballot at that level. One way they could have the Library Board lower the proposed tax is to replace term-limited Library Board members with those more willing to cut the tax.
Library Board members are limited to two consecutive terms, or eight years, unless they can secure votes from three-fourths of the Metro Council members for a third consecutive term. Freeman might have trouble doing so given strong anti-tax sentiments on the Metro Council.
“I’m not voting to reappoint anyone that supported increasing our taxes,” Metro Councilman John Delgado said.
Freeman and other board members have been subject to immense backlash since voting to seek the higher library property tax, and she said she worries the library system will be forced to cut services if it lowers its tax.
“There are just a lot of things that concern me,” she said. “I don’t want the money to be a battle. We’ve been able to grow and flourish. I don’t want it to turn out where the people are paying the price.”
If Freeman and Bardwell are replaced, that would leave the Library Board with only two members — Kizzy Payton and Terrie Johnson — who voted to seek the higher tax in the fall election. The two members who asked for a lower tax, Travis Woodard and Logan Leger, will retain their spots on the board.
Three toss-up votes on the Library Board could come from the two new members and current member Jason Jacob, who was not present for the meeting when the board voted on the tax proposal.
Potential board member Hudson has aligned himself with Metro Councilman Ryan Heck, who has been one of the library’s most outspoken critics. Heck has repeatedly accused the library system of having too much money and wrote a letter to the editor in The Advocate that Hudson applauded decrying dedicated taxes in Baton Rouge.
The Baton Rouge library system has expanded and improved rapidly in the past 10 years, with the additions of a new Main Library on Goodwood Boulevard and money being set aside for a new downtown River Center Branch and a South Branch. But Library Board members said they want to ensure a prosperous next decade for the library as well, which would come in the form of renovations to older libraries in the system.
The Metro Council is not expected to vote until May on whether to place the library’s proposed 11.1-mill tax on the ballot or whether to propose a lower tax.