Metro Council gives nod to 11.1-mill library tax proposal for Oct. 24 ballot _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- A 17x14 foot LED outdoor screen went live Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014 at the Goodwood Main Library. It faces the courtyard, where there is free wifi, as well as seating. The library plans on using it for promoting events, simulcasting and providing screenings of movies and major sporting events such as the Olympics and Bowl games. It may also be used for showing Ted Talks.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council gave the library system the green light Wednesday to hold an election for an 11.1-mill property tax this fall, after many said they received an outpouring of support for the library.

The proposal for the tax had initially looked like a long shot, after the Library Board bucked requests from some council members to shave its 10.78-mill property tax. The board instead voted to ask the council for the same rate of 11.1 mills voters approved in 2005 and 1995, which had been rolled back to 10.78 mills to keep in line with rising property values.

While many Metro Council members pledged months ago to force the library to lower the tax, it got the seven votes needed on Wednesday to move the proposal to the ballots. Voters will have their say on Oct. 24.

Council members Joel Boé, Tara Wicker, Chauna Banks-Daniel, C. Denise Marcelle, Donna Collins-Lewis, Ronnie Edwards and Trae Welch all voted in favor of putting the 11.1-mill tax on the ballot. Scott Wilson, Ryan Heck, John Delgado and Buddy Amoroso voted against the tax proposal. Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe was absent from the meeting.

Baton Rouge residents with $200,000 properties with homestead exemptions pay $134.75 a year for the library, according to the Assessor’s Office. If voters approve the tax increase, bills would rise to $138.75.

Residents with $150,000 properties would see their bills rise from $80.85 a year to $83.25 a year, and residents with $250,000 properties would see an increase from $188.65 a year to $194.25 a year.

“We’re representing the people that elected us, and those people are overwhelmingly … in support of the 11.1 mills,” Marcelle said.

The extra money the property tax generates will go toward major improvements on at least seven of the parish’s 12 libraries over the next decade. The libraries will receive renovations in order from oldest to newest, with the Jones Creek Regional Branch Library first on deck.

Boé, who represents much of the district near Jones Creek, said he is amazed at the number of people using the library every night of the week. He said they include children, teenagers, the elderly and adults holding civic group meetings.

“It’s best in class today. I want best in class 10 years from now,” he said.

If voters approve the tax, the other libraries in line to receive improvements include the Bluebonnet Regional Branch, the Greenwell Springs Regional Branch, the Baker Branch, the Scotlandville Branch, the Central Branch, the Zachary Branch and part of the Delmont Gardens Branch.

Heck, who has been critical of the library system budget, said the library staff ran their numbers in a way to try to make him believe they needed 11.1 mills when they did not. In the past, Heck floated an idea where the library could lower its dedicated tax to make room for a mental health tax without adding to the overall tax burden.

Delgado unsuccessfully tried to lower the library’s tax proposal back down to the 10.78 mills it is collecting. He said the library needs to cut expenditures regardless of how much tax money voters approve for it.

Many people with ties to the library spoke in favor of the council approving the tax. Travis Woodard, who voted against the 11.1-mill property tax when the library board approved it, said he changed his mind.

Woodard, like the council members, said he received many messages from members of the public who were in favor of the higher tax.

“I haven’t spoken to anyone who said, ‘Travis, we want to see the library scale back,’ ” he said.

Marcelle and Banks-Daniel said the libraries are one of the few places in their districts where people can go free of charge, feel safe and have access to computers.

“For people, particularly in my district, the library is their recreation,” Banks-Daniel said.

After the vote, Library Director Spencer Watts said the library will now focus on educating the public about the tax proposal before the fall election.

Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.