The Metro Council recently rejected Mayor-President Kip Holden’s fourth attempt at taxing the public, this time to the tune of $335 million. The council complained that they were handed the plan with little time to act, that it had too many unanswered questions and that the mayor latterly touted it as an “emergency.”
Two councilmen say there’s enough reserve funds in the library system and BREC alone to easily cover the cost of one of Holden’s tax proposals, a mental health facility pegged at $16.6 million. The library itself had a 2014 year-end balance of $57.5 million, well over three times the cost of this facility.
A pollster opined that moving funds around like this would “incur the wrath of voters.” But the councilmen counter that such circumspect financial management would in actuality please voters, who would continue to get expected services from the library and BREC in addition to a new, badly needed mental health facility, with no new taxes necessary.
One wonders, in fact, where voters’ wrath should rightly be aimed — at two councilmen trying to help, or at the library administration. Taking a look at the reverse side of your property tax notices for the past nine years, you’ll notice that the library has had the highest millage of all the agencies in the parish: 10.8 mils. This is larger than the Fire Department, EMS, CATS and the general fund.
The reason for such a large reserve is simple: All substantial capital projects have been, or soon will be, paid for out of the library’s current 10-year tax spending plan (which expires this year). The large expenditures seen in the past 10 years have included a new Main Library, a new Fairwood Branch, a proposed razing and rebuilding of the River Center Branch (downtown), a proposed South Baton Rouge Branch and a so-called Outreach Facility. No similar high-ticket items have been advertised for the next 10 years. Since all major capital projects items have been completed or committed to in the current 10-year cycle, the only expense for the library system in the next 10 years will be for operations and maintenance. No services will have to be cut, and taxpayers will see a welcome relief in taxes.
Does such creative financial thinking on the part of these councilmen please Mayor Holden? At least one of his projects would get funded, and the taxpayers wouldn’t be stuck with any new taxes to do so.
Contrarily, though, he’s incensed at the initiative, has branded the councilmen a “dictatorship” and predicts “serious legal battles.” It makes one wonder if what he really wanted was a tax coup (finally) to add to his résumé instead of the actual new structures and services.