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Lloyd Jarrow shows one of his favorite quotes from ÒAssata: An AutobiographyÓ at Main Library in Baton Rouge, La., on Saturday, May 15, 2021. Jarrow said books about African American history and activism are banned within the Louisiana prison system leading to the creation of an Underground Library.

An attempt to take money from Baton Rouge libraries to pay for flood protection has come to a screeching halt. 

After failing to garner the seven votes needed to move the idea forward Wednesday, the East Baton Rouge Metro Council will have to come up with another way to fund drainage upgrades and ease the public's growing concerns around flooding.

Councilman Dwight Hudson, who came up with the idea of diverting tax revenue from libraries and other departments to fund drainage projects, said it's back to the drawing board.

"It's clear listening to the comments from the administration and rest of the council that we have no plans for drainage maintenance," he said. "We'll have to look at other options, things like a new dedicated tax or stormwater utility fee, will have to be on the table."

Hudson was pushing for a special election this fall asking voters to divert 1-mill from the library system's 10.52 property tax millage rate and .25 mills from the 1.06 mills approved at the ballot box for Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control. Had the election gone through and voters obliged, that would have boosted the city-parish's drainage fund by nearly $6 million annually starting in 2023.

Yanking money from local libraries made it a fatal proposition, however. 

The move to tap into library funding drew vociferous criticism during Wednesday's council meeting, where community leaders and residents voiced staunch opposition and affirmed once again how the library system is a sacred cow that they want city-parish leaders to leave alone.  

After multiple motions related to library fund diversion failed — including that would have lessened the amount of tax revenue culled — the proposal to reduce MARC's millage rate was removed from the agenda. 

"I live in an area that has been affected by flooding, (but) I don't like the idea of pulling money in the middle of a millage cycle," Jason Jacob, chairman of the Library's Board of Control, said after council's failed voted Wednesday. "I personally thing this item should have been given more consideration. Bring more taxing entities on board and maybe everyone contribute a little bit."

"I believe flooding affects everybody and everybody should have some skin in the game," he added.

Charles Mayeux was one of the few public voices who spoke in support of redirecting library revenue, saying flooding is a more pressing matter. 

"It's wonderful to have the libraries we have, but if you have to swim there it makes it difficult to check anything out," Mayeux said. "I think it ought to go on the ballot and give us the opportunity to change that."  

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Library leaders said Hudson's proposal would have nabbed more than $46 million over the next 10 years in funds voters expressly approved for the library system in 2015. Such a loss, library officials have said, would have led to cuts in service and jobs and delays in renovation and new construction promised when the system presented its property tax renewal to voters six years ago.

Currently, the city-parish has about $8 million a year to spend on drainage — not nearly enough to cover needed upgrades, maintenance and a $100 million backlog.

"The library millage was approved in 2015, the next year we had historic floods and then two more after that," Hudson said during the debate at Wednesday's meeting. "If we don't look closely at our dedications and make sure they reflect the first priorities of this parish, we as a council are not doing our jobs." 

In the day leading up to the vote, the Library Board adopted a resolution opposing any attempt to redirect money from the voter-approved tax rate. 

Other board members felt it unfair for the Metro Council to place flooding issues on their shoulders.

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber recently expressed support for Hudson's concept, but only at a "responsible rededication" rate.

"We encourage the Metro Council and library system to determine a feasible millage reduction that can be agreed upon amicably, and we urge the city-parish to create a sound, fiscally responsible plan to incorporate this new funding to address ongoing maintenance of drainage," Trey Godfrey, BRAC's senior vice president of policy, wrote in his online blog analysis of the issue. "... We would be remiss to hamstring the ability of our library system to continue to deliver upon its mission with excellence."

Nearly everyone who spoke out against Hudson's proposal echoed those sentiments. 

"While I agree we have serious issues with flooding, we should not be in the position to change what voters have approved," former Metro Councilwoman and State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle told the council. "We need to find better solutions to address our drainage system."

Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome broke her silence on the issue in a prepared statement Wednesday. Had the proposal gone forward, she said, it would have set a bad precedent. 

"When we recently passed (MovEBR sales tax), we had to assure the public that the funds would only go towards programs as cited on the ballot," Broome said. "I feel confident that we can identify other funding avenues to sustain drainage maintenance." 


Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com