BR.stormprep.082921 HS 339.JPG

Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome speaks during a press conference, Saturday, August 28, 2021, to discuss the city-parish's plans ahead of Hurricane Ida's expected landfall over the weekend in Baton Rouge, La.

All signs point to Metro Council giving its stamp of approval to Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's spending plan for the second round of stimulus money the city-parish of East Baton Rouge is receiving through the American Rescue Plan. 

However, questions still linger about some of the allocations in the $73 million list of expenditures ahead of Wednesday's meeting. Council members are still awaiting answers about allotments for crime prevention, for police and fire and a $6 million investment into a private housing development in North Baton Rouge.

The Metro Council will hold a public hearing and vote up or down on the spending plan at its regular meeting Wednesday. 

Darryl Gissel, chief administrative officer for the city-parish, said guidelines stipulate the money be used for public health, initiatives in economically challenged areas, services to communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, to provide premium pay to government employees, infrastructure improvements, replacing revenue loss due to COVID, and covering city-parish administrative costs. 

"They basically wanted us to spread it out to every area; not put money in only one pot," Gissel said.  

A huge chunk of the federal stimulus money, about $20 million, has been set aside for additional improvements to the city-parish's drainage system — the highest priority for most of the council. 

"We desperately need updates to our systems in District 12," Councilwoman Jennifer Racca said.

"Yes, yes, yes to drainage," Councilwoman Carolyn Coleman added. "That's long overdue." 

The drainage work pinned with the American Rescue Plan money comes in addition to the millions of dollars the city-parish is spending elsewhere on stormwater management and infrastructure improvements. 

The dollars proposed for drainage improvements are getting some pushback from Councilwoman Chauna Banks who feels it's a lot of money going to the city-parish's Whiter, more affluent communities that are dealing with frequent flooding issues due to overdevelopment and "White flight."

"It's just another plus for people who live in St. George who got the cream of the crop and now want to pull out," Banks said, referring to the ongoing legal battle for incorporation for the proposed city to be created in southeast East Baton Rouge. "I believe some of that money should have gone to communities, like Alsen, to deal with over 50 years environmental justice issues. Or to small Black-owned businesses that are struggling."

"There are a lot of things on (my) end of the parish that could have been addressed but you have to pick your battles," she said. "I think it's fair and she tried to spread it out to every council person's district." 

The $20 million in flood-prevention includes $6 million for drainage box and pipe cleaning, $2 million for roadside cave-ins and ditch-cleaning, $1.4 million for engineering and project management, $5 million for watershed work along Jones Creek and another $5.6 million for channel-clearing and grubbing throughout the city-parish. 

Top stories in Baton Rouge in your inbox

Twice daily we'll send you the day's biggest headlines. Sign up today.

The channel-clearing is set for parts of Dawson Creek, Boggy Cut Bayou, White Bayou, Cypress Bayou, Bayou Manchac, Oakbrook subdivision, Chippenham Dive and Mancuso Lane.

Councilman Dwight Hudson, in a lengthy email to the administration, raised several questions around the drainage allotments. Hudson, who represents most of the southeastern corner of the parish, asked that money instead be used to clean up Boggy Cut Bayou in his district and to provide some additional floodplain storage in around Clay Cut Bayou south of Tiger Bend Road.

"The neighborhoods in the Clay Cut area are particularly vulnerable to flooding as they are Pre Firm and built below the current base flood elevation," he wrote. "Additional retention in this area would be a huge help to these residents." 

Hudson also asked that money be allocated for drainage maintenance equipment, which he said would go a long way in the city-parish creating a "sustainable maintenance program."

Among his list of questions regarding Broome's proposed spending plan, he asked whether other fire departments were consulted for their needs, since $9.6 million is getting earmarked for equipment upgrades for the Baton Rouge Fire Department and whether the administration has a strategic plan for the $8 million it wants to use to replace patrol units and other vehicles in the Baton Rouge Police Department. 

BRPD has more than $13 million in allocations under the plan, which Hudson called into question as well, since the department only provides law enforcement services to half of the population. 

"Will any dollars be going to the Sheriff's Office to reduce crime?" he asked.  

Lastly, Hudson questioned $9.5 million Broome wants to use to partially fund a two-story mixed-use mixed-income housing development in North Baton Rouge. 

"It is my understanding that this is a private development," Hudson wrote. "Is there a compelling reason that the taxpayer should shoulder this cost as opposed to the developer?" 

According to the Mayor's Office, the $11 million project involves building 36 residential units and 51,000 square feet of mixed-use space for essential workers and professionals in a low-income area.  

Councilman Cleve Dunn is defending the proposed allocation, which he said is only getting Hudson's scrutiny because it's a Black developer spearheading a revitalization project in one of the city's majority-Black neighborhoods. 

"Oftentimes in this city, when you're uplifting underserved communities, putting resources into underdeveloped areas and giving contracting opportunities to Black-owned firms, people have issue with that," Dunn said. "It's ironic there have been questions about this project and none for the other numerous agencies, projects and organizations receiving some of this money." 

Mark Armstrong, spokesman for the mayor, noted that Broome is committed to addressing the economic development needs in the parish's underserved areas and sees the project as a way to do that through its residential and commercial offerings.  

Councilman Rowdy Gaudet, who met with the administration last week, expressed overall confidence in how Broome wants to spend the money. 

"Knowing the mayor, she's intentional about what she does and what she put funding toward," he said. "I see these as one-time funds and a way to invest in priorities of the community without us getting into repeat operational costs."    


Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com 

Tags