EBR Metro Council approves funding for array of projects

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- East Baton Rouge Council on Aging Executive Director Tasha Clark-Amar, left, and  Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel address members of the East Baton Rouge Parish Metropolitan Council during their meeting on Wednesday in Baton Rouge.
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- East Baton Rouge Council on Aging Executive Director Tasha Clark-Amar, left, and Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel address members of the East Baton Rouge Parish Metropolitan Council during their meeting on Wednesday in Baton Rouge.

Early next week, approximately $4.2 million will begin flowing from city-parish coffers to pay for an extension of Antioch Road, a Washington D.C. lobbying firm, meals for seniors and a summer jobs program, among other projects.

In an unrelated move, the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council approved the creation of an independent sewer district around the planned Harveston development in the southern part of the parish.

Funds for a Police Athletic League, to host a youth soccer tournament and for a program to purchase bus tickets for homeless people to help them visit loved ones were also part of the budget supplement proposed by Mayor-President Kip Holden and approved 9-2 Wednesday night by the Metro Council.

A motion by Ryan Heck to split the supplement into individual items failed when three of the 11 council members present voted for it. Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis did not attend the meeting.

The biggest slice of the budget supplement is $1 million to extend Antioch Road from Jefferson Highway to Airline Highway in the parish’s southeast.

The project already had $3.1 million allotted in the budget, but additional funding was needed, according to the memo accompanying the budget supplement.

Another $200,000 from the budget supplement will go to Washington, D.C. lobbying firm Patton Boggs, a contract the council terminated in 2012 during the contentious run-up to the 2012 mayoral election.

Half of those dollars will go toward paying the firm for work it did in the first half of 2012, before the contract was ended by the council. The rest will go to pay the firm for the second half of 2013, Holden’s top aide William Daniel said last month.

Another $200,000 will go to the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging, whose director said the money would be used to help feed seniors.

“We are feeding about 1,300 seniors per day,” Tasha Clark-Amar said. About 700 of those were hot meals served in the senior centers around the parish, and about another 550 were frozen meals delivered as part of the Meals on Wheels program.

Several seniors rose during the public hearing to speak in favor of the Council on Aging.

“I know that anything that will hurt or interrupt the activities or services that we receive at the senior centers will be really detrimental to the health of the seniors,” Fred Nelson said.

Addressing an issue several council members have raised, the supplement also allocates $200,000 to fund a summer youth jobs program.

Funds for each of the projects are coming from higher than expected revenues flowing into the city-parish’s general fund.

Several other projects in the budget supplement would be funded by other sources. Specifically, $486,887 for the parish’s Head Start program is funded by grant funds and several riverfront development projects will be funded by a state sales tax rebate that can only be used for riverfront projects, Daniel said.

Phillip Lillard beseeched the council to split the supplement into individual line items.

“I mainly object to we have one item that covers about 15 different issues,” he said. “Personally, I think that some of these items should be voted on separately.”

Heck and Councilman Buddy Amoroso were the only two to vote against the supplement.

The council also approved — after a lengthy discussion — the creation of a waste water treatment district in the planned Harveston Development near Bluebonnet and Nicholson roads.

Much of the debate focused on whether Harveston’s developers — John Fetzer and Mike Wampold — should be required to tie into the city-parish’s sewer system.

The two have said that there is no tie in close to the first phase of the planned development. They have proposed building what they described as an eco-friendly sewer system that would be independent of the parish.

Homeowners in the development would not be required to pay sewer impact or user fees, the latter of which increase by four percent a year.

“Do we have a major sewer line running down Nicholson with capacity for this project?” Heck asked David Guillory, interim director of public works.

“There is a force main on Nicholson, yes,” Guillory replied. “That line was built with future development along that corridor in mind.”

Part of the Harveston development lies within 500 feet of a city-parish sewer line, which would require that it be tied in, Guillory said. But the rear of the 1,600 acre property is more than 7,000 feet from the city-parish’s sewer line.

The first phase of the development is several thousand feet from a sewer line, DPW’s Brian Harmon said.

“There is no part of the current development that an approved premise would be within 300 or 500 feet of a line,” he said. “So they are not required.”