The Metro Council will decide Wednesday whether to send Mayor-President Kip Holden’s $748 million capital improvements tax package to East Baton Rouge Parish voters this November or stop it.
The tax plan, which proposes a combination of sales and property taxes, is expected to be the first item of discussion at the council’s regularly scheduled meeting at 4 p.m. in the Government Building.
It will include comments from Holden and a public hearing.
Councilman Trae Welch said he doesn’t think Holden has the votes, especially since he has changed nothing nor offered any concessions since two weeks ago when the council initially voted to kill the proposal.
Welch also said he has since met with Holden, for the first time to discuss the tax plan, and Holden refused to budge on any issues.
“He said, ‘I’m not going to debate it, no change’ ’’ Welch said.
“But this is the same thing he’s done twice before, and it’s failed twice before,” he said.
He said he agrees there are infrastructure problems in the parish, and thinks the council would be more likely to support a bond issue later on if it was involved earlier in the process and allowed to offer suggestions and feedback.
On July 27, Holden’s tax and bond plan was on the council agenda to be introduced but the council voted 9-3 to delete the item with the intention of killing it before it could be debated by the council or a public hearing could be held.
Election items can be placed on a council agenda without introduction, which is why Holden was able to put his tax plan before the council again.
This is the last council meeting before the deadline to ask the state Bond Commission to place items on the November ballot. Holden needs seven of 12 votes to send the tax proposal to voters.
He has said his administration is responsible for the tax package, and he will not allow council members to alter it.
Councilwoman Alison Gary also said she does not expect the public hearing will sway her opinion.
“At this point, I’m not intending to change my stance on it. I think we should just table it for now,” Gary said.
She said recent feedback from her constituents in the past weeks has reinforced her position.
Gary also said she expects the most pressing infrastructure needs in the parish, such as high-risk bridges slated for replacement in the tax plan, should be folded into the regular budget.
“We need to further prioritize, and use what we have to start chipping away at some of this stuff,” she said.
Mayor Pro Temp Mike Walker said he will ensure that Holden and the public are given as much time as needed to speak.
He also said he will not be changing his vote.
“The mayor’s insistent on bringing it back up again, so we’ll allow him to speak,” he said. “Then everything we could have done will have been done up to this point.”
“But my vote will be the same, you can rest assured of that,” Walker added.
Walker said he expects a good turnout from the public to speak on the matter.
Among those who plan to attend is Baton Rouge Tea Party President Mike Thibodeaux, who opposes the tax plan.
“The bond issue as written is too bloated and way too expensive,” Thibodeaux said.
Infrastructure needs of the parish should be better prioritized within the current city-parish budget, he said.
One official said he hopes the council lets voters decide.
“People need to put politics aside a little bit and focus on the needs of our parish,” said Van Mayhall, who serves on the board of commissioners for the Downtown Development District and is a vice chairman of the parish Redevelopment Authority.
The voter-approved Green Light Plan, a half-cent sales tax funded road improvements plan, is a good example of a successful bond issue that has benefited the parish, Mayhall said.
“The administration and the city council have been good stewards of those funds,” Mayhall said. “And without those Green Light bonds we wouldn’t have gotten the road improvements and congestion improvements we’re getting.”
Mayhall, also chairman of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s crime issues council said the parish will benefit from the public safety initiatives in the proposal, such as a new Parish Prison, a juvenile services facility and a shared headquarters for the Sheriff’s Office and city police.
The council also will consider another item Wednesday to create a committee of mostly parish law enforcement officers who will evaluate what is needed to improve crime fighting, then offer a financing plan, which will likely involve a separate tax plan.
Early discussions of the committee were born out of the expectation that the mayor’s tax plan, which included public safety buildings, was dead.
The committee, if approved, is expected to consider the needs of the District Attorney’s Office, and the various law enforcement agencies, including municipal police departments and the Sheriff’s Office.
In the past week, Holden has reached out to both District Attorney Hillar Moore III and Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, following criticism from council members that the two were not included in discussions about the most recent proposal.
Gautreaux said he had a “productive dialogue” with the mayor and was able to discuss some concerns about the inadequacies of the proposed Parish Prison size.
Gautreaux said no deal was struck, and ultimately he would prefer the public safety improvements be considered under the law enforcement panel proposed by the council.
Moore, who asked last month for funding for his office to be included in the tax plan, said Holden signaled he would support a tax election for the District Attorney’s Office to yield $5 million a year, in addition to another $5 million from the city-parish budget.
Moore said he will not seek a property tax for his office this year, as he has previously indicated.
He said he still would like to participate in the law enforcement committee and be included in a comprehensive public safety package.