The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council on Wednesday approved two more industrial tax breaks through the state's Industrial Tax Exemption Program — one on the contingency the company re-submits its request to reflect an increase in new job creation to meet the city-parish's standards. 

Both tax breaks, totaling $38.6 million over the next decade, were lauded by parish business leaders and Together Baton Rouge, the faith-based organization that pushed local and state leaders to change the way multi-million dollar industrial tax breaks are granted. 

"Today is a good day. We worked hard to set up standards (and) we now have an opportunity to show the governor we take that responsibility seriously," Diane Hanley, a spokesman with Together Baton Rouge, told the council. 

Gov. John Bel Edwards through an executive order in 2016 gave local tax authorities the power to decide which companies can get the tax breaks. 

And last year the Metro Council adopted guidelines the body now uses to weigh the exemption requests, such as requiring expansions and new construction projects to create at least 15 permanent jobs or 10% of the business's preproject employment baseline to get the tax break.

Formosa Plastics, a polyvinyl chloride manufacturer, was awarded a 10-year tax exemption on Wednesday for a $332 million expansion project that will increase production capacity and sales at its facility by 20%. The expansion is expected to create 15 jobs in addition to the more than 321 positions the company currently has. 

The company is getting a $38.2 million tax break over the 10-year time frame. 

Fabricated Steel Products, on North Flannery Road in Baton Rouge, was also awarded its requested tax break, but on the contingency it resubmits its application to the Louisiana Economic Development board.

The company is expanding its facility by adding two metal buildings that will house two steel processing systems that will cut, drill and fabricate steel parts. 

The LED report notes the expansion has an estimated value of $2.2 million, but would add only 2 new jobs to the company's existing 55 — below the 10% standard  the Metro Council requires. 

But Donnie Miller, director for business development for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, said the addition of the two jobs was a clerical error and that the expansion would actually add 10 new jobs over a five-year period. 

"You know when this was originally put on the agenda we opposed it," said Edgar Cage, another spokesman with Together Baton Rouge. "There was lots of discussion and we agree with the company resubmitting their application showing the change in jobs." 

The council later approved both unanimously.

Also Wednesday, the Metro Council unanimously authorized the use of more than $21.6 million in federal and state hazard mitigation funding on projects Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome had said are geared toward reducing flood risks in the city-parish.

Broome’s administration touted the $15 million grant funding allocation that will go toward the long-gestating stormwater master plan. 

HNTB project manager Melissa Kennedy, who is spearheading completion of the master plan, said the firm will conduct extensive data collection of the city-parish's surface and subsurface drainage systems for the 11 watersheds in East Baton Rouge. The work will include data on more than 55,000 drainage structures, cross sections in more than 500 miles of channels and hundreds of bridges and culverts in the city-parish.

The council’s approval is contingent upon the city-parish securing a commitment from the state's Office of Community Development for the matching funds to utilize the federal grant money from FEMA. But that won't likely happen until spring 2020 at the earliest, city-parish officials said.

Fred Raiford, the city-parish's transportation and drainage director, said he doesn't think the administration can jump-start the work on the plan quicker by using other city-parish funds to provide the 25% local match until the OCD funds are released.

"When I asked if we use other funds besides what’s recommended would we lose that opportunity on that 25 percent match I didn’t get an answer," he said at a press conference before the council meeting. 

Broome added, "Whenever federal funds are involved there are a lot of details connected with that. Oftentimes there’s not the flexibility of making adjustments that may seem logical to us to do."

The stormwater master plan will help city-parish officials prioritize projects related to reducing flood risks parishwide. It will likely take another 2½ years before it's complete, Raiford said.

The other set of projects the administration put before the council Wednesday includes dredging, widening and infrastructure upgrades for portions of Dawson's Creek and another section of Ward's Creek at the Siegen Lane channel.

The other grant funded-items include construction of several safe houses across the city-parish that will serve as mobilization stations for first responders during emergency situations and storm events. The city-parish is also looking to acquire and demolish 13 residential structures prone to flooding.

Several council members said they get inundated with calls from constituents every time it rains due to flash flooding that's occurring throughout the parish on a more frequent basis. 

"It used to be traffic, traffic traffic. Now it's drainage, drainage, drainage," Councilman Matt Watson said. "This is obviously needed (and) our residents need to see we're making progress on this." 

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