The Metro Council gave a thumbs up Tuesday to Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's 2018 budget proposal, which includes money for a jail diversion program for the mentally ill and additional cash for the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority.
Broome unveiled her nearly $919 million proposed budget for 2018 in early November, calling it a "standstill" budget that only anticipates 2.3 percent growth from the previous year. It is rare for Metro Council members to tweak a mayor-president's budget proposal, and council members Tuesday unanimously agreed on Broome's spending plan.
Metro Council members have begun poring over Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's proposed 2018 budget for $918 million to run City Hall thr…
City Hall will spend additional money next year in hopes of cutting down jail overcrowding and curing widespread blight problems in Baton Rouge.
The budget includes $260,000 for a long-discussed program to divert those with mental illness and substance abuse problems out of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison and into treatment. The biggest portion will be used to pay the salaries of a social worker and resource coordinator to work at the jail. Their role will be to identify those who would be good fits for the program and figure out which programs best suit them.
The pretrial diversion is a scaled-back version of a failed tax proposal from last year to build a short-term treatment center for those in crisis from mental illness or substance abuse in Baton Rouge.
Those running the program hope to move 50 people out of jail and into treatment within the next year, while the city-parish is also anticipating $800,000 in savings from freeing up jail space and ending the expensive necessity of sending inmates to jails in other parishes.
Broome's administration has also taken a friendlier stance toward the Redevelopment Authority than her predecessor, former Mayor-President Kip Holden. After Broome's close adviser Chris Tyson was offered the job as RDA directo, Broome's budget included $500,000 for the RDA.
After multiple failed attempts to build a center that would keep the mentally ill out of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, local officials a…
Tyson recently said he expects to focus on redevelopment in north Baton Rouge, given how often the lack of economic development in north Baton Rouge has been a discussion point in political circles over the past year.
Nearly $93 million is allocated to pay for the Baton Rouge Police Department's operations next year. The budget includes $845,000 for body camera maintenance and video storage.
The police department's budget includes funding for two academies of 35 recruits each to help an agency that is short on manpower and expects many retirements soon.
The Fire Department has a budget close to $52 million, which includes an academy of 25 recruits.
"All across city government, we have recruiting issues and it seems like it has to do with pay," said Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel on Tuesday.
Baton Rouge's Redevelopment Authority got off to an ambitious start after its creation in 2007, investing in such high-profile projects as a Y…
Gissel said along with the public safety entities, city-parish departments overseeing public works and Head Start are also struggling to hire new workers.
While the city-parish is known for generous benefits packages, starting salaries are generally lower than they are in the private sector.
Gissel said any new money that becomes available in 2018 might need to go toward salaries, while City Hall also needs to rethink whether to retool benefits packages to allow for higher salaries.
The city-parish will also save $877,000 in 2017 because it won't be providing money from the general fund budget to the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging. Instead of relying on the general fund, the Council on Aging will begin to receive $7.8 million annually from a dedicated property tax next year.
One item that did not make it into the budget for next year was a request from faith-based community organizing group Together Baton Rouge for the city-parish to include money to incentivize more grocery stores to build in Baton Rouge. Together Baton Rouge requested $1.5 million in incentives for grocery stores to build where people live more than a mile away from a grocery store.
Broome previously said she hoped to finance the initiative with a public-private partnership.
A group of 75 people rallied Monday outside of East Baton Rouge Parish City Hall to push for funding in the 2018 budget that would offer incen…
"I was disappointed in this budget that we didn't have anything for a food initiative in north Baton Rouge," said Councilwoman Barbara Freiberg before casting a vote in favor of the budget. "I know there are a lot of complexities in trying to do something like that, but I believe it is something needed."
Metro Council members Trae Welch, Chauna Banks, Erika Green, Donna Collins-Lewis, LaMont Cole, Dwight Hudson, Tara Wicker and Matt Watson all also voted to approve the budget. Scott Wilson, Chandler Loupe and Buddy Amoroso were absent from the meeting
While Broome's administration cleared the hurdle of receiving approval for the 2018 budget, they will also ask Metro Council members Wednesday to spend excess money collected in 2017 on some of the city-parish's most dire needs. Broome's administration has proposed spending $2 million in excess sales tax collections from this year to replace 80 aging Baton Rouge Police Department vehicles.
Metro Council members will also consider Wednesday whether to use $500,000 on new fire department vehicles; $500,000 on a new fire station in the Lee Drive/Burbank Drive area; $500,000 on building improvements to the sheriff's headquarters and $1 million on Raising Cane's River Center upgrades.
The Metro Council meeting is at 4 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that a Baton Rouge fire station expected to receive $500,000 is in the Lee Drive/Burbank Drive area.