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East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome speaks to the crowd at the 'Youth Explosion' job fair at the Marriott hotel, Saturday, May 12, 2018.

East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome has officially signaled her intent to seek a half-cent sales tax for 30 years to pay for infrastructure improvements — a tax expected to raise almost twice as much money as a proposal the Metro Council refused to put on the ballot last year.

Should the Metro Council agree to put the new measure to a vote, the election will be held on Dec. 8, according to paperwork filed Thursday afternoon.

The council, which previously rejected a 5-mill property tax to pay for Broome's "Better Transportation and Roads" plan, will decide whether to call an election on the proposed sales tax after a public hearing at its meeting on Aug. 8, according to records provided to The Advocate.

The BTR plan was projected to raise about $450 million through the issuance of bonds that would have to be repaid over 30 years, according to city-parish finance director Marsha Hanlon. The half-cent sales tax is expected to generate about $900 million.

"It provides way more money. ... We want to make a major impact. We don't want any more piecemeal work," said  Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel. "The money isn't going to fall out of the sky."

The new tax will help complete projects that have been languishing for decades, he continued.

Chandler Loupe, Buddy Amoroso and Scott Wilson were among council members who said they were happy to see a sales tax proposed this time around, which they view as more fair than a property tax millage paid only by property owners.

"If it's a property tax, I'm out," Wilson said.  

Tara Wicker, though, said she had "deep concerns" about the impact a regressive sales tax would have on low-income and elderly households.

Gissel said for every $75,000 in income, an individual or household would be expected to pay $46.52 on a a half-cent sales tax. The proposed half-cent sales tax is not applied to groceries or prescription drugs, he said.

Broome's request to the council does not include specific work to be performed should the tax pass. Council members said they haven't seen a project list. Gissel said it's nearly finalized, but was not yet prepared to make it available to The Advocate Thursday afternoon.

Councilmen Loupe and Amoroso said they met with the mayor on Wednesday afternoon, and she floated the idea of possibly seeking voter approval of a third-of-a-cent sales tax rather than a half-cent. The two Republican councilmen said she could keep it at a half-cent and also address drainage, reasoning that a half-cent and a third-of-a-cent would be equally tough to pass.

The mayor's proposal references drainage improvements, but Gissel said those would only be for work on roadside projects such as gutters and ditches rather than new canals and the like.

Loupe said he wants to see at least some of the new tax dedicated to paying for storm water drainage improvements, especially since the city-parish is paying for a storm water master plan to guide future efforts.

The mayor's office has maintained that the city-parish can pay for drainage work with federal hazard mitigation funds available due to the 2016 flood. That requires a 25 percent local match, but local transportation and drainage director Fred Raiford said the city-parish should be able to meet most of those requirements through separate funds provided through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Councilmen Dwight Hudson and Matt Watson said Thursday they were caught off-guard when they learned the mayor was asking for a half-cent sales tax, rather than for a third-of-a-cent.

They two had met with the administration Wednesday afternoon, before Loupe and Amoroso, and said they left expecting to vote on a third-of-a-cent.

Councilwoman Chauna Banks who was also at the meeting, she said she didn't recall hearing the mayor's staff commit to a third of a penny.

"All I ever heard was half," she said.

However, Hudson said it was "very surprising" to read the notice that the mayor was seeking a half cent.

"We were told just yesterday it was a third of a penny," Hudson said.

"It worries me that it would change so quickly."

Watson was also frustrated, and said he had been told that a third of a cent would raise the necessary funds.

Wicker, who supported Broome's last roads tax, said she needs time to feel out her own constituency to see if there's support for a sales tax this time around.

She and Hudson both remarked that the crowd for the December election is likely to be small as it's not a major election date and could have a heavier turnout of more conservative voters since races are on the ballot in traditionally conservative areas like Central and Zachary.

If the sales tax is to pass, it will take "major marketing," Wicker predicted.

Loupe opposed the infrastructure millage but said he's ready to let a sales tax go to the voters.

It's time, Loupe said, to give people a choice "whether they want to spend the next ten years sitting in mind-numbing traffic."


Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.