DALLAS — A majority of the East Baton Rouge Metropolitan Council backs a plan to study the parish’s law enforcement needs and seek voter approval if a tax hike is needed to finance improvements.
The council last week refused to consider Mayor-President Melvin “Kip” Holden’s proposed $748 million capital improvement program that included $298 million of public safety capital improvements. The plan called for tax hikes to support $716 million of general obligation bonds for the effort.
Mayor pro tem Mike Walker said eight of the 12 councilors will co-sponsor a resolution establishing a Crime Fighting and Prevention Committee. It will be considered at the Aug. 10 council meeting.
Parish voters could be asked in April 2012 to approve tax increases that would support debt for vital projects along with new, dedicated revenue sources for operational needs, Walker said.
The study group will consist of Councilman Trae Welch and representatives of the mayor-president, sheriff, district attorney, constable, and four police departments in East Baton Rouge Parish, which includes Baton Rouge.
“We want them to give us something that we can take to the 450,000 voters in this parish and ask them to vote to increase their taxes to do so,” Walker said. “These are the people fighting crime every day, and we need to listen to them. That was not done in the previous proposal, and that’s the main reason we stopped it in its tracks.”
He said the lack of input from the law enforcement officials in the parish was reflected in the list of projects to be financed with bond proceeds. “There was $16 million in there for a sheriff’s office training facility, and our sheriff said he didn’t need or want it,” Walker said.
He said Holden has been asked to participate in the committee, but the mayor has not responded to the invitation. Holden declined to comment on the criticism.
However, in a Tuesday radio interview Holden reiterated his earlier charge that the council majority were “playing Russian roulette” with the lives of parish residents by blocking the plan that would replace 75 deteriorating bridges in the parish. Holden called the opponents “a disruptive force.”
Holden could reintroduce the capital program at the Aug. 10 meeting. He is seeking a November election on the $748 million plan. Walker’s proposal does not cover the infrastructure aspects of Holden’s plan, but he agreed there is a real need for new bridges and drainage projects.
Holden’s plan called for replacing 75 bridges. Walker said as many as 200 bridges in the parish could need replacement, but added that a facilities review is essential before a plan can be developed.“If we need a bond issue to take care of these things, let’s do and let’s do them all at once,” he said. “We shouldn’t be asking people for millions of dollars for bridge projects and then have to come back a few years later and ask for more.”