Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said Friday that she is supportive of building a mental health facility in Baton Rouge, but stopped short of describing how intensely she will lobby for a resurrected mental health tax that could be placed on ballots this year.
Details emerged Thursday about a second attempt at passing a dedicated property tax for a mental health facility in Baton Rouge, after voters rejected the tax just a few months ago in December of 2016.
City leaders are mounting a second attempt at getting voter approval of a tax to build a men…
Under former Mayor-President Kip Holden's administration, it was customary for Holden's staff to bring tax items to the Metro Council for approval rather than Metro Council members bringing them up themselves. Holden was frequently their chief supporter, as he packed tax plans together and tried to sell them to the Metro Council and the public.
But council members appear to be leading the charge on the second try for the mental health tax, as Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker sponsored the announcement of the public hearing for the tax that the Metro Council will hold April 12. A majority of Metro Council members must agree to to put a tax proposal on the the ballot. If Wicker is successful, the proposal for a property tax would go before the voters in October.
"I certainly have been an advocate for a mental health facility," Broome said in an interview on Friday. "I had no objections when asked by the council member about putting it on the agenda. As time evolves, I will be more specific in terms of my advocacy around the issue."
The idea behind the tax is to fund a facility called the "Bridge Center," which would be a place where police could take non-violent offenders in psychiatric crisis instead of to jail. Officials have also said that people could could seek help themselves at the 30-bed center, which would also provide services for those who need to sober up. The tax would also fund a crisis response team of mental health professions to go out in the field with police and evaluate possible patients.
The proposal, which has been a pet project of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, was narrowly defeated by voters in December. The concept had wide support across the political spectrum among East Baton Rouge Parish officials, but some were skeptical last fall about moving forward at a time when so many property owners were struggling after the August flood.
During the campaign to pass the mental health tax last year, BRAF hired former Lafayette Corrections Director Rob Reardon as the executive director of the Bridge Center. But Reardon stopped working there after the tax failed, and now works for Catholic Charities. He said Thursday he was not involved in the second attempt to get the tax on the ballot.
Just months after East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden came into office in 200…
Assistant Parish Attorney Ashley Beck said Metro Council members legally have the ability to place election items on the agenda without prior approval from the administration. The Metro Council has authority to call elections in East Baton Rouge Parish, and only needs a majority vote of the Metro Council to do so, she said.
Beck also noted that the announcement of the public hearing for April 12 that Wicker sponsored was simply a legally required public notice. When the tax measure is placed on the April 12 agenda for the public hearing, Wicker or another council member or Broome's administration could then sponsor it as well.
While she was campaigning last year to become mayor-president, Broome supported the initial variation of the mental health tax. On Friday, she said she wants to ensure the public is given more information about the tax this time, as a lack of information may have been what caused its failure with 51 percent of voters in December.
There's no one thing that can be blamed for Saturday's overwhelming rejection by East Baton …
"The more folks become aware and engaged in the process and understand the value, the more people we have on the team moving forward," Broome said.
The property tax proposal would again be for 1.5 mills, costing $18.75 a year for a homeowner with a $200,000 home that takes homestead exemption. The tax would also be in effect for 10 years, with collections starting in 2018 and ending in 2027.
If the Metro Council agrees to put the tax back onto ballots, voters should see it again on October 14 as they vote for a state treasurer replacement for now U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-Madisonville.