A recent survey found that a majority of East Baton Rouge Parish residents support a new fee to keep parish waterways clear of litter, which can clog storm drains, fill ditches and make flooding worse.
City-parish leaders who have been pushing for more funding for anti-flooding projects say the survey is evidence they're on the right track.
"This is an acknowledgement of people saying we need recurring maintenance and we need to do that better than we have been doing," Councilman Rowdy Gaudet said. "We hear the community telling us we need recurring maintenance funding, so let’s look at multiple options."
The Baton Rouge Area Foundation commissions LSU's Public Policy Research Lab each year for a "CityStats" survey asking parish resident's opinions on a broad range of local and national issues.
More than 61% of the respondents voiced support for a new $10-a-month stormwater fee, although Democrats and Republicans were split.
Sixty-eight percent of Democrats said they were in favor, compared to 40% of Republicans.
The parish's poorest residents who responded to the survey were also the most likely to support the fee, with 70% of those who said they make less than $25,000 voicing support. The parish's richest were the least likely, although a majority of that group still said they would support a fee.
A record number of parish residents, 75%, said the parish has a litter problem. Fifty-six percent of respondents labeled the problem as “very serious,” according to the poll.
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Metro Council members and Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's office are considering a number of ways to pay for fixes to the parish’s flooding and litter issues in the aftermath of several major floods in recent years.
Last month, the council rejected a proposal to redirect funding from the library system and mosquito abatement for drainage maintenance. After that proposal failed, Broome released a statement insinuating her administration could find another way to pay for drainage projects without tampering with departments funded by voter-approved property taxes.
Council members said they are still waiting for the mayor's plan before making any decisions on a solution.
Council Pro Tem LaMont Cole said he's glad such a large percentage of residents voiced a willingness to fund the maintenance department.
"Once we see what the mayor has planned, we can go forward knowing we have the support of the overall community if in fact that trend were to stay the same across the 450,000-plus residents of our parish," Cole said.
Councilman Dwight Hudson, who proposed the measure to reallocate funding, said he would like to see the solution address the city-parish's backlog in its maintenance department as a whole rather than just litter abatement. Hudson also said he is still looking for ways to rework the city-parish budget to fund the maintenance department rather than adding new spending.
"I'm open to continuing the discussion on this to see if its feasible and its something the community would support, but we can not let up on redefining our priorities and making sure that our budget and our tax dedications are in line with the biggest problems facing us in East Baton Rouge Parish," Hudson said.
Pollsters conducted live interviews with 549 residents of East Baton Rouge, 83 via landline, 422 via cellphone and 44 who responded online through a text message link. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points. Results were weighted by age, race and gender to more closely resemble the demographic breakdowns of the most recently available census data.
The foundation has conducted surveys since 2008.
As the city-parish battles its flood problems, nearly half of those surveyed said the parish is going in the wrong direction, reaching 48%. That number is the highest level the foundation has seen in the three years it has asked the question, up from 42% last year. Thirty-six percent of respondents said the parish is going in the right direction.
Residents also faulted the pace that the parish is making progress on its problems. Sixty-nine percent said the parish isn’t progressing fast enough, the second-highest level in the history of the 13-year survey. Only 19% said the progress is acceptable and 6% said it is too fast.
"Through our intentional efforts, we continue to make East Baton Rouge Parish a wonderful place to live and work," Broome wrote in a statement.
The largest age group to say the area is heading in the right direction was the parish’s youngest residents — 41.2% of 18- to 29-year-olds who were surveyed voiced optimism about Baton Rouge’s direction. Residents who identified as conservative or very conservative were the largest ideological groups dissatisfied with the parish’s path, with 85.3% and 50.9% saying its headed in the wrong direction respectively.
A majority of Republicans, Democrats and independents all said they were in favor of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office merging with the Baton Rouge Police Department, or 57% of residents surveyed.
The support for a merger comes 10 years after former Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe established a Metro Council committee to study a possible merger amid high local crime rates. The parish has seen a surge in homicides since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, like much of the county’s urban areas.
Sixty percent of respondents said marijuana should be legalized for sale and personal use by adults. A majority of Democrats and independents voiced support for legalization, and a plurality of Republicans said the same. Only 8% of respondents said marijuana should be totally illegal, and 30% said it should be only for medical use, which is the current state law.
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The local support for marijuana legalization comes after a push in the legislature to legalize cannabis narrowly failed in the state House. The Legislature did approve legislation that was signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of pot by removing the possibility of jail time.
With the state capitol’s sights set on legislative and congressional redistricting later this year, 54% of respondents said they support the creation of an independent commission to draw the lines, a practice used in nine other states to prevent gerrymandering. A majority of liberals, conservatives and independents said they support the commission’s creation.
Democrats and Republicans were unable to agree, however, on the results of the 2020 presidential election. Despite there being no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Louisiana or across the country, 68.7% of Republicans said President Joe Biden was elected because of illegal voting or election rigging. More than 90% of Democrats said the election was legitimate and accurate. In total, 63.3% of respondents said the election was legitimate.
Parish residents were also split along ideological lines on the practice of voting by mail. More than 93% of Democrats said they support universal voting by mail, and 82% of Republicans said they oppose it. A majority of independents said they also support the practice. In all, 64.8% of respondents said they support universal mail voting.