Metro Council member Donna Collins-Lewis speaks on her proposal proposal that would have stopped retired city-parish workers from returning to full-time jobs while getting paid for 29 hours of work a week and receiving their retirement benefits, Wednesday, March 14, 2018 at the Metro Council meeting. The proposal failed to pass.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council will take 30 more days to mull over a 20-year tax abatement for a residential development in Livingston Parish that has sparked concerns among council members who want to know more about the project before moving forward.

Their concerns are rooted mostly in apprehensions about granting tax breaks in another parish, despite having the authority to do so in this circumstance.

However, after the developer revealed to them Wednesday night that the project would be a 200-unit affordable housing complex for senior citizens, several council members felt the need far outweighed the loss in revenue. 

"I'm only asking that this be deferred for 30 days since there are some concerns about the legality of this," Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis said during Metro Council's meeting Wednesday. "I'm a major proponent of affordable housing (and) looking at Livingston Parish, I know it flooded and know there's a desperate need for senior housing." 

The development in question is called Morningside at Juban Lakes, which is funded through the Capital Area Finance Authority.

And Mark Drennen, executive director of the authority, explained to council members Wednesday night that property taxes are not paid on the projects the agency funds.

In 2014, the State Bond Commission expanded CAFA's reach to include the eight parishes surrounding East Baton Rouge — Ascension, East and West Feliciana, Iberville, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, St. Helena and West Baton Rouge.

The commission also expanded who could benefit from the authority, opening the door for the agency to work with developers on housing projects, infrastructure and economic development.

What didn't change is the Metro Council's role as the overseeing governmental body with responsibility for approving projects and tax breaks in any of the parishes within the agency's regional reach. 

But Council Pro Tem Scott Wilson and others expressed issues they have with that Wednesday night. 

"I hate to sit here and vote for something going on in another parish, Lord, we can't keep things straight in our own house," Wilson told Drennen. "I have a problem with us being the trustee."

Councilman Trae Welch previously expressed similar concerns, as did parish leaders in Livingston. 

The projected 20-year abatement for Morningside at Juban Lakes is estimated between $1.6 million to $2 million over the life of the tax break. 

The developer, Tom Delahaye, told the council the financing for the project is contingent upon approval of the tax abatement.

The Livingston Parish Council on Jan. 23 voted 6-2 asking that the Metro Council deny the tax break, or CAFA funding, for the Morningside development.

Livingston Parish Councilman Garry "Frog" Talbert also told council members the parish's Sheriff's Office and School Board passed similar resolutions asking that the request be denied. 

Talbert doubled down on the pushback from the parish's governing body by saying they feel the project's viability shouldn't be dependent on a tax break. 

"East Baton Rouge Parish might have a lot of money, but we don't have an industrial (tax) base; we're a bedroom community," he said. "This shouldn't be built on the back on our taxpayers."

It's believed that the Morningside project is the first one to go the Metro Council in this manner since the restructuring. Councilwoman Chauna Banks said she expects more to pop up in the future and thinks taking an extra month to completely understand the council's role in the process will be beneficial. 

But like Collins-Lewis she believes the need may overshadow the money. 

"Development should be based on the merits and not the taxpayers of a parish," she said.

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