Costs associated with the East Baton Rouge Parish’s massive sewer upgrade will have to be watched closely by the Metro Council in 2013, the council’s four departing members said.
The four — Ulysses “Bones” Addison, Mike Walker, Alison Gary and Smokie Bourgeois — all identified the $1.4-billion Sanitary Sewer Overflow project as one of the top concerns that will require close monitoring.
Escalating costs may force the city-parish find new revenue sources, Addison said.
“It may require revisiting how we pay for the sewer program,” he said. “We have to try to keep it reasonable.”
The parish is required to upgrade its sewer system under a federal consent decree, which is a settlement agreement contained in a court order. The sewer system improvements are being funded by a half-cent sales tax and by sewer fees that increase by 4 percent each year under an ordinance approved by the Metro Council in 2003.
Walker echoed Addison’s comments about the need for the council to closely monitor the Sanitary Sewer Overflow project to try to keep costs under control.
The SSO project would require frequent action by the council, Gary said.
“With so much construction, and it’s such a huge project, I would imagine that’s going to be kind of front and center in terms of the city contracts and things like that,” she said.
But stopping the project is not an option, Walker said.
“The program has to succeed because the entire system is broken,” Walker said.
The four departing council members also said that crime — the issue that dominated the 2012 mayoral election between Walker and incumbent Kip Holden — would loom large in 2013.
“Crime is still the issue that has to be addressed by everybody,” Walker said. “It’s still a challenge.”
Walker said a narrow approach to fighting crime would fail.
“It has to be a multifaceted approach to combatting crime,” he said, echoing Holden’s comments on the campaign trail.
“But at the same time you have to have enough police officers to do the job. I think that’s number one,” he added.
Gary said the issue was not a simple one.
“That’s going to continue to be an issue and a tough one,” she said. “That’s just one of the most unsettling things was to have a constituent call and say they had been a victim of a home invasion.”
Gary praised the Redevelopment Authority and Downtown Development District for their work in helping to reduce factors that contribute to crime.
Bourgeois said the Council would have to work hard to rein in crime, but that the judicial system needed reforming.
Three of the four also encouraged the council to reach out to each other and to members of Holden’s administration, with whom Council members have had an at times rocky relationship.
“I would hope that we would all work toward getting along, but understanding that we all have different roads, different responsibilities,” Addison said. “I hope they find consensus as much as they can, but there is nothing wrong with healthy debate.”
Walker had some specific advice for the person who follows him into the Mayor-Pro Tem’s seat.
“What I want of the next mayor pro-tem is to do what I did, to make it a full-time job,” he said. “Do not have it go back to part time.”
Walker also said he hopes the next pro-tem does a better job of working with Holden’s administration.
“I think toward the end I didn’t do as good as I should have,” Walker said, who called the animus that grew between the a two a regret.
“I am a realist, I could have done better,” he said.
Gary encouraged the council to study the issues and listen to all sides before making a decision on how to vote.
“Make sure you don’t pander to one particular group,” she said. “You will hear from the same people on things, and they will be really loud but remember you represent 30-something thousand people.”
Gary said council members should refrain from “playing political games,” or trading votes on particular issues.
“There’s no sense in it. You may as well just go with your gut,” she said.
Bourgeois declined to offer advice to the incoming Metro Council members.
“Nobody gave me any advice,” he said.
Addison’s District 2 seat, which covers Scotlandville and parts of Baker, will be filled by political newcomer Chauna Banks-Daniel.
Walker’s District 8 seat will be filled by Buddy Amoroso, who ran unopposed for the seat. District 8 is a south Baton Rouge district bounded on the north by Old Hammond Highway, on the east by O’Neal Lane, on the south by Tiger Bend, Jefferson Highway and Airline Highway, and on the west by Sherwood Forest Boulevard.
Ryan Heck, who also ran unopposed, will take over Gary’s District 11 seat. The district includes portions of Government Street and the Jefferson Highway corridor to Siegen Lane.
Walker and Addison were both term limited council members who had served three terms. Gary decided not to seek re-election.
Bourgeois lost the District 12 seat to attorney John Delgado in a hotly contested race. District 12 includes Southdowns, Kenilworth, Valley Park and Pollard Estates, among others.