The East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority approved a 2016 budget Friday that guarantees the financially strapped organization will operate at least another year and potentially find favor with a new mayor willing to fund the organization.
The RDA Board of Commissioners easily approved the general fund budget, which calls on the organization to spend $408,263. That’s a step down from the amended 2015 budget, which ended up with $742,800 in spending.
The RDA has slashed spending, cutting the number of employees and reducing its office space. While former RDA President Walter Monsour had a compensation package of $365,000, including benefits, interim President and CEO Gwen Hamilton is making $75,000 a year.
“I think it’s fair to say that we have reduced expenses to the point that no more reductions are possible,” said John Noland, chairman of the RDA board.
The goal of the RDA and its supporters is to keep the organization going until new sources of funding can be found. In 2009, the RDA was awarded $60 million in New Market Tax Credits, which are part of a federal program targeting investment and real estate projects in low-income communities, and had provided a source administrative funding for the organization. Since then, every RDA application for more credits has been turned down by the U.S. Treasury Department.
East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden has flatly rejected calls to provide permanent funding to keep the RDA going, saying the city-parish has too many other obligations, such as covering the pensions of police officers and firefighters, repairing decaying infrastructure and covering the cost of anti-poverty programs.
Holden is term-limited and will leave office in January 2017.
“There will be money in the bank at the end of next year to sustain us until we can get a new allocation of funds from our new mayor,” Noland said.
In other business, Hamilton said John Fregonese, the Portland, Oregon, planner who has been hired to write a request for proposals for the redevelopment of the Entergy site on Government Street, will go before the RDA at its Jan. 21 meeting. Fregonese will issue a report on the redevelopment of the 6-acre site, along with a timeline for putting it back into commerce. “It appears we will be able to get an RFP (request for proposals) for a developer out on the streets by the end of February or the first of March,” Hamilton said.
Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.