East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden is right to worry about the long-term financial implications of a sweeping ordinance intending to spur economic development in north Baton Rouge. We support his veto of this ordinance, an election-year proposal that we feel needs a good bit more work before it can be considered a realistic approach to community redevelopment.
After a long and contentious meeting, perhaps inspiring Metro Council members with a reasonable desire to just go home, a new North Baton Rouge Economic Opportunity Zone ordinance was adopted.
It encompasses properties — many, many properties — inside Baton Rouge city limits north of Florida Boulevard that don’t fall in the Downtown Development District or are owned by the airport, which has its own tax regulations. The proposal was introduced last year but was deferred several times over boundary lines, and council members tacked on a “sunset” provision if the ordinance is found unworkable in future years.
There was a markedly political tone to this process: Developers within the district may apply to the Metro Council for exemption from paying taxes on business improvements for five years, after which the abatement can be extended five more years. We worry about council members or a future city-parish administration playing politics with who gets the breaks and who doesn’t.
We wonder if this kind of broad-brush approach to community development is missing something.
In his veto message, Holden said the ordinance “lacked a cohesive approach to make it work.” That sums up the key problem, but there are others.
The mayor-president boasted about his three-term record of fiscal stability in City Hall, and he’s right to point out that there is no authoritative fiscal note on this new proposal, whether it will pay off in the long run or cost the city-parish government money that should be used to pay for vital services.
We agree with Holden that if tax breaks have their place as part of a more comprehensive strategy, the cost to the city-parish treasury has to be carefully calculated first, not after the fact. A shrewd developer with a good lawyer-lobbyist can make a lot of hay with the kind of broad property tax cuts envisioned in the ordinance.
The Metro Council has the authority to override the Holden veto, but we urge council members to think carefully about doing so. If nothing else, the cooperation of the city-parish administration is needed to make any redevelopment plan work in any part of the community.
Forcing this through, in an election year, gives the impression that it’s more about “doing something” than about really getting something worthwhile done.