The day after the Metro Council took a stand against Mayor-President Kip Holden’s $748 million tax and bond issue, plans kicked off to pursue a separate public safety tax to benefit law enforcement.
Council members Mike Walker, Trae Welch and Donna Collins-Lewis met Thursday afternoon with Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, District Attorney Hillar Moore III and Constable Reginald Brown to talk about the future of the parish’s public safety funding.
“The No. 1 issue with the public right now is still crime,” Walker said. “If we’re going to do a crime-fighting proposal, that proposal should be put together, not by the mayor or by the council, but by all law enforcement officials who on a day-and-night basis fight crime.”
Holden’s bond issue, which appears to be dead, had a significant portion dedicated to public safety capital projects including a new parish prison, a juvenile facilities center, and a public safety complex intended to be a shared headquarters for the Sheriff’s Office and Baton Rouge police.
The group agreed the next step should be to form a committee that is made up of representatives from the Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, Constable’s Office and the police departments of Baton Rouge, Zachary, Central and Baker.
The committee will also include Metro Council members, and an invitation will be extended to the Mayor’s Office.
Holden, who was not invited Thursday, did not respond to a request for comment.
The idea is that law enforcement leaders will create a list of needs to address crime in the parish. Those needs will then be developed into a tax plan that could be presented to voters in April.
In addition to the parish prison and juvenile facilities center, which were part of Holden’s tax plan, officials at the meeting also said a truancy center, the misdemeanor city jail and additional funding for the District Attorney’s Office are priorities.
Earlier this month, Moore requested to be included in the mayor’s bond issue to deal with budget shortfalls in his office.
Moore said if he wasn’t included in the bond issue, he would put a 3.5 mill-property tax on the November ballot to fund his office.
But Thursday, Moore said he’d be willing to drop the property tax if he knew he was going to be included in a larger public safety tax proposal in the near future.
Neither Moore nor Gautreaux were consulted about the mayor’s bond issue. Holden said the bond issue mirrored his two previous infrastructure packages that went to voters and failed in 2009 and 2008, and both officials were consulted for those.
Gautreaux said his office provided input in 2008 about the size of a new prison and the new headquarters, but was never able to suggest items to be included in the bond. He also said the parish’s needs have changed since 2008.
Gautreaux also said the proposed size of the prison in Holden’s bond issue was not large enough to address the overflow of criminals in the parish system.
Gautreaux said he applauds the Metro Council for deleting the bond item from the agenda Wednesday night because he didn’t feel it adequately addressed crime fighting.
“I don’t want to go to the public and say, 'Give us this money, it will help us with fighting crime,’ if it won’t,” he said. “I can’t and I won’t go to the public to vote for something until everyone has come to the table.”
Welch said Holden should have consulted with parishwide law enforcement from the start.
“We should have had these gentleman and the other chiefs in a room with a blank sheet of paper to make a list,” Welch said. “Tell us how we can work together and what can we do in this parish to fight crime and make sure people are safe in their homes.”
Holden’s bond proposal was killed Wednesday night after a 9-3 vote of the council stopped the proposal from being introduced on the council’s agenda.
Items are typically introduced, without discussion, two weeks before they are voted on.
But Parish Attorney Mary Roper said Holden does not have to introduce election items to get the proposal on an agenda.
Holden said after the Wednesday meeting that the bond issue is “not dead.”
The next Metro Council meeting is Aug. 10, and Roper said Holden could place the item back on the agenda for consideration.
However, the council could also delete the item again, Roper said.
Holden can also request a special meeting where the council could consider the bond issue.
“I don’t see why they would change their minds,” Walker said, adding that the public response has been mostly positive. “It was ill-conceived, hastily constructed and not worthy of being put on the ballot.”
Welch said the bond issue was formed in a “top-down” approach. He compared it with the preferable method used for the Future BR land use plan, which was derived from several months of public forums and public input.
Collins-Lewis said the council was not given enough time to vet the proposal, which ultimately contributed to her voting against it.
“If people call me and I can’t answer their questions, if I haven’t had time to properly vet it, then I can’t support it,” she said.
This was Holden’s third attempt at a sweeping capital improvements tax package, which would be the first one in Baton Rouge since the 1960s.
In addition to public safety, the bond issue included plans for drainage repairs, traffic light synchronization, bridge repairs, a downtown parking garage and the expansion of the River Center.
In total the package would have cost taxpayers three-quarters of a cent sales tax and 2.9 mills of property tax.