Baton Rouge residents will pay an extra dollar a month for their trash collection after the East Baton Rouge Metro Council came close Wednesday to not upping the fee, which would have eliminated recycling in the city.
A handful of council members changed their votes to approve the fee increase from $19 to $20 a month after realizing the consequence of not increasing the bill would be losing recycling. Several complained they did not want to make their constituents pay more money while taxes and other bills continue to rise.
The city’s recycling contract was set to end at the beginning of November, and when the council initially rejected the fee increase, Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel said the consequence was that residents “don’t need their recycling bins any more.” The council already approved the contracts that signified the fee increase months ago but had to vote on the fee separately.
The extra money residents will now pay should cover increased costs the city’s recycling firm, Progressive, is charging for glass collection. It will also help make up for increased expenses related to garbage collection and maintaining garbage bins.
It’s been eight years since recycling fees increased. Councilman Joel Boé chided his fellow council members for not increasing the bills and said it was unreasonable for the council members to not expect inflation over time.
During the debate, some council members questioned why there was no middle ground between increasing the fee and losing recycling. Daniel said it was because the contracts are not up for renegotiation until 2018.
Other council members questioned how many people in Baton Rouge recycle and if people who do not recycle should have to pay for recycling.
“I would hesitate to reward people for not recycling,” Daniel said.
“This is America and people have rights,” Chauna Banks-Daniel responded.
Banks-Daniel, Chandler Loupe and John Delgado voted against increasing the fees. Boé, Trae Welch, Scott Wilson, Tara Wicker and Buddy Amoroso voted in favor of upping the fees. Ryan Heck, Donna Collins-Lewis and Denise Marcelle changed their votes in favor of the fee increase after initially voting against it. Ronnie Edwards was absent from the meeting.
The Metro Council also voted to spend $95,000 to study medical operations at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, after medical staff complained in August they are exhausted from working too many shifts with too little staff.
Medical staff told the Metro Council that they desperately needed supplies as basic as Neosporin and blood pressure cuffs, and that they are underpaid.
Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, Police Chief Carl Dabadie and Warden Dennis Grimes all asked the Metro Council to approve the money for the study.
“We have nowhere near the amount of services that we need out there from a medical standpoint,” the sheriff said.
Gautreaux estimated that before the closure of Earl K. Long Medical Center, which cared for the mentally ill, only 20 to 25 percent of the prison’s inmates had mental health problems. Since the EKL closure, Gautreaux said, some 40 to 45 percent of the inmates have mental disorders.
But Marcelle and Banks-Daniel questioned why the city should invest $95,000 into studying the prison’s medical operations when the staff had already told them what the problems are.
“There is an immediate need that we could fix first,” Marcelle said. “Fix it immediately.”
Daniel said Emergency Medical Services had told him the prison has received more medical supplies. He said the study is necessary because the city is not in the medical business, and making changes to the prison’s medical operations is uncharted territory.
Banks-Daniel slammed the sheriff for not doing more to help alleviate the prison’s medical problems. Though the sheriff’s office runs the prison, Gautreaux said, he and the warden have little control over the medical operations aside from asking EMS to fix problems.
Loupe said the prison’s medical problems are the city’s responsibility.
“To criticize the law enforcement officers that come in and say we need to study this and we need to do this is just the definition of hypocrisy,” Loupe said.
Loupe, Welch, Wilson, Collins-Lewis, Amoroso, Boé , Wicker, Delgado and Heck voted in favor of the study. Marcelle and Banks-Daniel voted against it.
In other business, the Metro Council approved a tax relief incentive for a Courtyard Marriott planned downtown. They rejected the same item in July.
This time, all council members aside from Heck voted to give the hotel tax-increment financing, known as a TIF. The incentive will allow the hotel to keep 2 percent of the local sales tax dollars that the city-parish would normally collect.
The Courtyard Marriott will be built on the corner of Third and Florida streets.
Charles Landry, an attorney representing Marriott developer Windsor Aughtry Co., told the Metro Council that the eight-story Marriott should generate $900,000 a year in sales and property tax revenue.
He added that the hotel should bring 50 jobs to downtown that pay more than minimum wage, plus more than 100 construction jobs.
“It’s a heck of a deal,” Landry said.