People who file civil suits or lose cases in Baton Rouge’s City Court will start paying $5 fees to help pay for a case management system that will allow law enforcement officials to more easily find and verify warrants.
The fee breezed through the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council on Wednesday with unanimous support despite bickering that surrounded it the previous two times City Court administrators told council members they needed a way to pay for better case management. The new case management system is expected to help people move more quickly in and out of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.
The fee will be charged to people convicted of criminal offenses and traffic violations, or those who file civil suits in City Court. City Court Judge Laura Prosser said community service is available for people who cannot afford the $5 fee.
The money from the fee should generate an extra $250,000 annually, and City Court already has more than $540,000 to help pay for the new case management system. City Court Judicial Administrator Lynn Maloy told the Metro Council the fee was the best funding source for the new technology because it’s sustainable.
“It’s not a novel idea, but it’s novel for this state,” she said.
When City Court leaders first asked the Metro Council to approve the fee in September, some council members said they viewed it as a tax. The vote against it back then was five in favor and six against.
In need of a funding source to pay for the case management system, City Court administrators asked the Metro Council in November to allocate $386,040 toward the system.
Metro Council members did not authorize the money, but a few said they changed their mind about supporting the fee and would sign off on it if it came back before the council.
They kept their word. On Wednesday, at least five council members who previously voted against the fee did not object to it. They were Ryan Heck, Chauna Banks-Daniel, Buddy Amoroso, Tara Wicker and John Delgado.
“I voted against this originally. I think I was the one that called it a tax increase,” Amoroso said about changing his mind. “It’s technology we need.”
Prosser said City Court leaders should have been clearer the first time that the fee does not amount to a tax.
“It only applies to people who actually use the court,” she said.
The Metro Council also deferred voting for the second time in two months on a proposed north Baton Rouge economic development district. The district would give some property tax breaks to developers looking to build in north Baton Rouge.
The vote to defer was unanimous, and it was led by the ordinance sponsor John Delgado. He said after the meeting that some tweaks to the economic development district’s boundaries need to be made in the next 60 days.
The district includes the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, which is problematic because the airport already offers its own incentives for developers that build on their property.
In addition to removing the airport from the district, Delgado said he is considering possibly expanding the district’s boundaries to include some unincorporated areas in the northern part of the parish. The original proposed boundaries were north of Florida Boulevard and within the Baton Rouge city limits.
“It’s about making sure every area that is deserving of an economic opportunity zone will be covered,” Delgado said.