District Attorney Hillar Moore III said in a letter sent Friday morning that Mayor-President Kip Holden’s $748 million bond proposal fails to address the dire financial situation facing the prosecutor’s office.
In the letter sent to Holden and the Metro Council, Moore asks that a recurring tax for the District Attorney’s Office be included in whatever tax package the mayor puts before voters this fall.
But if his office is excluded, he said, he will put a separate item on the November ballot, asking voters to approve a 10-year, 3.5-mill property tax, that would generate an estimated $10 million a year.
Holden declined comment on Moore’s letter.
John Carpenter, chief administrative officer for Holden, said tax-free bonds cannot be issued for operating expenses like those mentioned in Moore’s letter.
In an email to the District Attorney’s Office, Carpenter noted that no operating expenses are included anywhere in the mayor’s bond issue.
“There apparently has been some confusion in the media that the Mayor-President made a decision to not include the District Attorney’s operating budget in the proposal,” Carpenter said. “This is categorically unfounded. The capital improvement plan is just that; no more or less.”
In an interview, Moore said while he understands the mayor’s bond issue is designated for capital outlay, there’s nothing to prevent the city-parish from also asking for an additional tax that could be designated for his office. He said his request falls in line with the public safety component of the bond proposal, valued at $350 million.
“I want to be included with all the law enforcement issues, so it’s just one vote for law enforcement and not piecemeal,” Moore said.
One component of the bond issue will ask voters to approve a quarter-cent sales tax and a 2.15 mill-property tax increase to build a new parish prison, a juvenile services complex, a new combined law enforcement headquarters for city police and the Sheriff’s Office, and to renovate the downtown City Hall building.
The bond issue also will include parish infrastructure and economic development components.
Moore said he “unequivocally” supports the needs for the prison and juvenile detention facilities.
“This is not an anti-mayor or anti-Metro Council letter,” Moore said. “But we see movement in other areas, and we need to be included in that progress.”
In his letter, Moore said he’s been unable to “fill core positions responsible for providing investigative support to homicide trials” because his office lacks the money to pay competitive salaries.
He said the homicide rate in East Baton Rouge Parish — fueled by the illicit drug trade — “has grown to exceed national and Southern regional averages.”
“Our parish’s continued inability to locate stable, sufficient, and recurring sources of funding for the District Attorney’s office is negatively impacting my office’s ability to respond to these growing threats to public safety,” Moore wrote.
The District Attorney’s Office has an annual budget of $11.6 million, according to Mark Dumaine, chief of administration for Moore’s office. By comparison, he said, the District Attorney’s Office for Jefferson Parish, which has a similar-sized population, is $17.5 million.
Dumaine said the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office gets $4.8 million from the city-parish’s general fund budget and the remainder comes from state funding, federal grants and fines, forfeitures and fees.
Figures released by the Holden administration show the appropriation from the general fund budget has increased modestly each year since 2006, when it was $3.5 million.
Moore said that while the city-parish contribution has remained steady, he expects to lose about $300,000 in temporary grants and legislative supplements in 2012.
He said costs are also ballooning as a result of expanding services, and committing staff and funds to crime-fighting efforts such as a Truancy Intervention center and the multi-law enforcement agency Violent Crime Unit.
He also said in the letter that increasing caseloads and the “doubling of jury trials over prior years” is stretching his staff and resources.
Moore said funding is needed to staff positions for nine prosecutors, three investigators, four victims assistance coordinators, a paralegal, a court enforcement officer and a secretary.
Several Metro Council members said they are sympathetic to Moore’s concerns.
“I think Hillar’s needs need to be addressed in some form or fashion,” Councilman Joel Boe said. “He has legitimate concerns.”
Boe said he found it “extremely disheartening” that neither Moore nor Sheriff Sid Gautreaux were consulted before the Holden administration released its latest bond issue proposal late last week.
“From a public safety perspective, it’s not a universal plan,” Boe said.
Gautreaux said he has had “no conversations with the mayor or anyone from his staff” about the bond issue since he and Moore met with Holden in December.
He said some council members are already discussing possibly restructuring any tax proposal to put forward a more comprehensive crime-fighting package.
“I don’t get a feeling from the council that they’re going to approve it like it is,” Gautreaux said.
Councilwoman Alison Gary, formerly Alison Cascio, said Moore’s letter is a “sign that not everybody who should have been involved has been involved in the planning of the bond proposal.”
She said public safety is a top priority for her and many others.
“If that is our priority, then I think we need to have everybody at the table coming to a consensus about one way to go,” Gary said.
She said the public needs to see that agencies are working together.
“It’s a bad enough time to be asking people for a tax, much less if all leaders in public safety aren’t at the table together,” Gary said.
Councilman Chandler Loupe said he would prefer the district attorney keep his tax proposal separate from the bond issue, which he will not support.
He said Moore’s letter indicates the bond issue, at least the public safety portion, was “put together hastily.”
“(The district attorney) is probably the most important aspect of fighting crime in East Baton Rouge parish,” he said. “We can arrest them all we want but we need the DA to convict them.”
Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker, who also said he will oppose the bond issue, said Moore’s letter shows a “glaring fault” of the overall bond proposal.
He said crime is the No. 1 issue in the parish, calling for a public safety tax proposal with input from Moore, the Sheriff’s Office, and the city Police Department, over the bond proposal.
“But we haven’t done that because none of those people have been invited to the table,” Walker said. “What Hillar’s letter does is show glaringly that this is what hasn’t happened, and this is what needs to happen.”
The mayor sent out details of his third attempt at a capital improvements bond attempt to the Metro Council on July 7, during the council’s summer recess.
The Metro Council will vote on Aug. 10 whether to present the mayor’s bond proposal on the Nov. 19 ballot.
Moore does not need mayoral or Metro Council approval to put a tax increase on the ballot separately.