A new East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, a new juvenile services facility, a new shared public safety headquarters and a larger addiction treatment facility top a list of about $300 million in priorities a panel is sending to the Metro Council for consideration this week.
The council is expected to discuss the public safety committee’s recommendations at 4 p.m. Wednesday. The committee’s recommendations are shaping up to what could be in a tax and bond issue for voters to consider in the spring.
The committee’s members include law enforcement authorities, a council member and Mayor-President Kip Holden, who met Monday night.
Similar to the public safety portion of Holden’s failed bond proposal, the committee’s plan could ask for funding for a new Parish Prison, $165 million; a new juvenile services facility, $45 million; and a shared public safety headquarters for City Police and the Sheriff’s Office, $102 million.
The committee also recommended the inclusion of between $2.5 million and $5.5 million to build or renovate a larger facility for the Baton Rouge Area Alcohol and Drug Center and the inclusion of at least $5 million of operational funds for the District Attorney’s Office and other unspecified operational costs for law enforcement.
The committee’s proposal for the addiction center and the operational costs are what separate the recommendations from those outlined in Holden’s public safety bond issue. Holden said he had to abstain from voting to approve the recommendations for those reasons.
The remaining committee members unanimously supported the recommendations, saying the inclusion of the addiction center was important because they want to focus on crime prevention, in addition to building facilities to better hold the current offenders. Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said “99 percent” of inmates in Parish Prison have an addiction to either drugs or alcohol.
The addiction center is the only facility in the parish that does medical detox, which provides the assistance of doctors and medicine to addicts who are trying to quit heroin or other harsh drugs, said Metro Councilman Chandler Loupe who was on a subcommittee exploring funding options for the center.
The center has a capacity of 29 beds and a waiting list of 456 people, said Lisa Bailey, the center’s executive director.
The addiction center on Florida Boulevard could either move into the parish Planning and Zoning Commission’s building across the street or build on a plot of land they purchased years ago near the Baton Rouge General Medical Center Mid City, Loupe said.
The planning commission is expected to move into a different building soon and the city-parish could rent the building to the nonprofit organization for free which would quickly expand capacity to between 50 and 80 beds, Loupe said.
Additional operational funds for the nonprofit center have also been identified from the Ryan White Program, which provides funding for people with HIV and AIDS through federal funding, Loupe said.
Since 50 percent of the people who are treated in the detox center have HIV, Loupe said some Ryan White funds allocated to local programs could be used to supplement the nonprofit’s budget.
Holden said “it’s not going to be physically possible to add the number of beds being talked about so far,” because of the added operational costs, coupled with the fact that federal programs that fund the Ryan White Program are being slashed.
He also pointed out that the center also borrowed $200,000 to purchase property several years ago, and has not repaid the city-parish.
Blake McGehee, chair of the center’s board, said the nonprofit facility was in the position to pay back the city-parish immediately. He also said the organization has an extremely diversified budget to protect it if any single source of funding is eliminated.
Loupe noted that the city-parish contributes only $179,000 of the addiction center’s $1.3 million budget.
“We can either be a naysayer … or we can find the money and help the problem,” Loupe said. “Everybody at this table is getting cut at the national and state level and it’s going to continue to happen, but that’s no excuse for us to say we may not have money in the future because we’re actively going to find it.”
The committee also briefly discussed the possibility of buying the soon-to-be-vacant Woman’s Hospital on Airline Highway for $19 million, in lieu of building a new shared public safety headquarters.
Other priorities considered over the past weeks, such as a Truancy Center and a misdemeanor jail, are expected to be funded through other revenue sources.
However, committee Chair Trae Welch, a council member, said it is imperative that the tax proposal include funding for the additional operational costs that the new facilities and initiatives will require.
Gautreaux said, for example, the new Parish Prison is expected to cost an additional $1 million per year to operate, which he does not have in his budget.
But after the meeting, Holden said he thought the operational costs of the Parish Prison would be offset because the Sheriff’s Office would no longer have to pay millions of dollars to house prisoners out of the parish due to overcrowding. He said he thought it was unfair to ask taxpayers to pay for operational costs to hire new people.
“No one can tell how many more people will have to be hired because of this; the smallest number I can tell you is probably around 200 more that the government will be hiring,” Holden said after the meeting. “When we really need to be bringing in jobs through private industry … without having to further tax people.”
Holden said the committee’s priority list is “the same bond issue” as the one he proposed to the council for public safety in recent months for $298 million of the full $748 million capital improvements plan. But he said the difference is he was not asking for operational costs and did not think more people would need to be hired.
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