Council on Aging promises transparency spending millions
BATON ROUGE – The EBR Council on Aging promised transparency and announced it will hold a series of meetings to discuss its controversial property tax that was approved by voters in November.
The council shared information in a news release issued Thursday morning.
Some on the Metro Council have been pushing for this, and want to see more transparency.
"Myself and Councilman Hudson are trying to put together measures in the cooperative agreement that would make them more accountable to the public, where they would be subject to the public meetings law, public documents law, and ethics," Metro Councilman Buddy Amoroso said.
The vote was nearly split in half – passing with 90,791 votes, or 51%. The ten-year tax will generate more than $7 million for the Council on Aging. The tax doubles the agencies budget, which had been about $3.2 million.
The agency said it will hold meetings in the spring to outline its plans for expansion and hear from taxpayers about how money should be spent and also establish what is described as an “Implementation Task Force” to “provide input and oversight as funds are received and plans for expanded services are implemented.”
The agency said specifics about both the meeting schedule and details on the task force are still being worked out.
"We record our meetings, we release them, announce them and the public is welcome at anytime and we want that," COA Director Tasha Clark Amar said. "We ask that you come."
The council pointed out it is routinely audited. A recent audit revealed the agency ended 2015 $200,000 short. About the audit, the agency's director, Tasha Clark-Amar, told The Advocate then “We do a great job with a little bit of money and we will do a better job if we had a little bit more.”
But, the deficit wasn't the only issue ahead of the election. There were allegations the Council on Aging was improperly engaging in a direct-mail effort supporting the tax. A political action committee used the agency's non-profit discount postage code. The mailer also shared a return address with Council on Aging offices, but agency officials said the situation was a mistake.
The issue was highlighted by the Legislative Auditor.
"You can't use any public funds to support or oppose a candidate or proposition on the ballot," Legislative Auditor Darryl Purpera said. "By using public funds in anyway to send out mailers to ask for you to vote for a particular proposition, would be improper and against the constitution."
In the original WBRZ News 2 Investigative Unit report about the mailer, an attorney for the PAC promised to repay the cost – about $1,400.
Clark-Amar has always steered conversations about issues with the Council on Aging back to a need for what she believes are the oldest citizens losing their lives because there is a lack of funding.
"(Senior citizens) will continue to die on a waiting list," she told WBRZ in October 2016. "We have over 5,000 people on a waiting list for services that they can't get because someone has to die before they are the next person in line."
The Council on Aging is confident the tax will save lives.
“We are looking forward to expanding services and to the increased involvement of the East Baton Rouge community moving forward,” Clark-Amar said in a news release Thursday morning discussing the plans for the tax. Currently, the organization hasn't received any money yet. They are waiting for tax bills to go out and be collected this year before they get any money.
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