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Downtown Library patron sit under the overhang out of the rain on a dreary dismal day Monday July 27, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La. (Photo by Bill Feig, The Advocate)

The board that oversees East Baton Rouge libraries on Tuesday declared its opposition to Metro Councilman Dwight Hudson's effort to re-route tax money that pays for two parish agencies, including the libraries, and spend it instead to improve drainage.

Library Board of Control members painted a dire picture of reduced library services, leaner operations, job cuts and deferred building upgrades and new construction. They said the library system would lose more than $46 million over 10 years if the Metro Council moves forward with the plan to divert a portion of the voter-approved property tax rate.

Hudson's proposal also targets the voter-approved tax rate for the city-parish's Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control. 

"I think it's a step too far what's being asked of us," Board member Donald Luther said ahead of the board's vote Tuesday. "Changing up the millage system this far into the cycle can have disastrous side effects for us. We need to try and protect our millage as best we can and see if we can find another way to deal with...issues in this parish."  

Hudson is trying to find ways to put more money into flood prevention efforts, and is looking at other agencies' revenue streams as a way to do it. 

In comments he made to the board at Tuesday's meeting, the councilman touched on three historic floods the city-parish has endured since voters approved the library system's millage rate in 2015. 

"I'm listening to my constituents and I believe the rest of the council is listening to their constituents and priorities have changed some since 2015," Hudson told the library board. "They want us to look at a rededication and want us to do it without looking at a new tax." 

Flooding woes could spur Baton Rouge building moratorium -- but not how other parishes did it

Hudson expressed a willingness to work with the library system on a compromise. He also indicated the council could defer the item Wednesday — but it would have to vote on the proposal by Aug. 11 if they want to make it on the November ballot. 

Currently the city-parish can only earmark about $8 million annually to maintain the city-parish's drainage system. Many officials say that's not nearly enough for needed upgrades and improvements, or catch up on the service backlog which is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

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Hudson's proposal, on which Metro Council will hold a public hearing and possibly vote on Wednesday, attempts to divert 1-mill from the library's 10.52 property tax millage rate, and .25 mills from the 1.06 mills voters approved for mosquito and rodent control. That would boost the city-parish's drainage fund by nearly $6 million annually starting in 2023. 

The overall taxes property owners pay wouldn't go up. Instead, some of that revenue would be re-dedicated, since Hudson didn't think the Metro Council could get voters to approve an increase for the parish's property tax.

Council's vote Wednesday will be to hold a special election Nov. 13, since any changes to the voter-approved taxes must be OK'd in a parishwide election. 

The chairman of the governing board for the city-parish's Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control has already voiced his opposition to the proposal, saying it could erode voter's trust in approving tax measures and could potentially hinder their ability to go forward with big purchases to improve service. 

The library board's members voiced similar concerns Tuesday.

Ahead of Tuesday's special-called meeting, the head of the parish's library system was open to a compromise that would help the city-parish financially but not at the expense of the system's operations. 

But nearly all of the board expressed dissention even to that. 

"We should have time to fully analyze what's being proposed," said Candace Temple, the board's vice president. "I always hear citizens complaining the city doesn't have a plan. Well, the library has a plan." 

And that plan is built on the more than $95.7 million in revenue the system has built up in its reserve fund, Library Director Spencer Watts pointed out.  

This week, library officials are saying the system would be in the red by 2029 under Hudson's proposed effort, which would mean scaling back on services, programs and projects and cutting between 50 to 65 positions. 

"I'm against taking money in the middle of something; there's something unsound about that," said Board President Jason Jacob. 

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