A tax for police pay raises won't be appearing on the spring ballots after all, though debate on the issue Wednesday exposed rifts between the Baton Rouge's mayor's office and the Metro Council.
Councilman Matt Watson had proposed an 8-mill property tax to boost officer pay, especially for fresh recruits. Though the matter enjoyed some initial support, his colleagues eventually began questioning whether a new tax and police raise was the best way to improve public safety.
The Metro Council may ask Baton Rouge voters to pass a new tax to give city police officers pay raises — as much as 24 percent for new recruit…
Watson said he heard from residents who also opposed a new tax. While he said he believes police pay is a life and death matter given the 2017 homicide rate, he pulled his own proposal during Wednesday's council meeting.
"This is not the time, and this is not the method," Watson said.
The council accepted Watson's decision without discussion, though before the meeting, councilman Buddy Amoroso criticized Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's handling of the matter.
A proposal to put a new tax on the ballot to raise the pay of Baton Rouge police officers appears to be losing support.
Amoroso was generally supportive of Watson's tax proposal, although he had expressed concerns about how pay raises would increase the load on the city-parish's retirement system. The mayor's finance staff declined to work with council members to answer questions about the issue, Amoroso alleged.
The councilman conceded that he wasn't sure is Watson's proposal was the best course of action, but questioned why Broome and her staff didn't try to make it work.
"It's the only plan out there, and I think we're in a crisis situation with our policemen," Amoroso said.. I wish we had more data."
Broome fired back in an interview.
"I think it's a shame that the councilman is supporting misinformation," the mayor-president said. "The council knows that I have an open-door policy with them."
Broome said her office never received detailed information on the tax proposal, such as the type she provided in advance of her own failed infrastructure millage request known as the Better Transportation and Roads, or BTR plan. Broome has also said her staff is investigating whether the police department could be restructured in a way that would allow for an increase in police salaries.
Metro Council members have their own finance office, Broome pointed out. Amoroso contended that it is too small and not designed to to evaluate new tax proposals.
Broome's response to the police pay tax was representative of a larger problem, Amoroso said. Every time a Metro Council member has an idea to improve East Baton Rouge, the mayor-president's office tries to co-opt it, he charged.
For example, he said, council members try to set up a community policing initiative and the Police Department introduces a "competing plan;" when they try to establish a committee to address blight, the administration establishes its own team; and when the council attempts to boost officer pay, the mayor's staff offers an alternative proposal.
Amoroso said he supports Broome but said that she's sowing "division" between the executive and legislative branches of local government.
Broome disagreed, saying that her office and the Metro Council are all public servants, and that it's natural that they will pursue similar goals because the all respond to the needs of local residents.
"We've got bigger fish to fry than who said what first," she remarked.
There was little public debate on Watson's tax proposal once he pulled the item.
Jennifer Carwile, a member of Together Baton Rouge and the Metro Council's public safety committee, wondered aloud whether the city-parish could increase police salaries by collecting millages currently uncollected under the state's industrial tax exemption program, an ongoing sticking point between Together Baton Rouge and business groups.
The decision not to pursue the police millage represents the third tax proposal that has foundered in the past year.
In addition to Broome's five-mill infrastructure proposal, there was an unsuccessful attempt to resurrect a plan to fund a mental health facility to serve as an alternative to jail for people in need of psychiatric care and substance abuse services.