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Council denies tax elections

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BATON ROUGE - Metro Council members voted Wednesday night not to bring East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden's proposal for a 1/4 cent sales tax increase to a public vote. The tax bump would have funded public safety and capital improvement projects.

council members in favor of the plan said it deserved to be put before voters.

"The voters need to have the voice to say whether they want another tax or don't want another tax," councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle said.

But, members of the council who did not support the issue said they felt rushed and didn't have enough time to view the official plan given to them last week. There also was a concern that pushing the election to October would be better, when voter turnout is higher; elections in May traditionally don't see more than a 15-percent turnout.

Sheriff Sid Gautreaux and District Attorney Hillar Moore said the tax proposal would provide some relief and called their situations emergencies.

Gautreaux said the parish prison's capacity is about 1700 prisoners but any given month the parish has an additional 400-700 prisoners kept outside the parish.

"Our current facility is too small to meet just the current needs," he said. "It's in deplorable condition."

Council members including Buddy Amoroso said the city has known about the issues with the prison for some time and wonder why it's an emergency now.

"They've been talking about this for the past two and a half years," said Amoroso. "They could have had an election last October, they could have had one two years ago, so no, I don't think it was an emergency."

The proposal failed 8 to 4 with Council members Chauna Banks-Daniel, Trae Welch, Buddy Amoroso, Ryan Heck, Joel Boé, Chandler Loupe, Scott Wilson and John Delgado voting against. Members Tara Wicker, C. Denise Marcelle, Donna Collins-Lewis and Ronnie Edwards voted for the proposal.

The proposal would have raised $335 million and allowed the parish to build a new prison, juvenile facility and mental health center. It also includes a $500,000 property tax hike to pay for operating costs at that mental health facility and a $1.5 million increase for operations of a larger jail.

"I guess the council thought they understood the situation better than the top elected law enforcement officials in the parish," said Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel.

The mayor's office said there is no other revenue stream to build a prison. Daniel said the mayor could revisit this tax for an October election.

The Metro Council also voted down a tax for the St. George Fire District. The district asked for more money for 20 years and some council members thought it was too long.  Chief Gerard Tarleton said his district will lose out on about $1.5 million.

What will happen is we'll come back in the fall and hopefully get the item on the ballot," said Tarleton. "But we are going to lose revenue for about a year, and it will postpone everything for much longer."


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