Mayor-President Kip Holden, mayoral candidate Steve Myers and most Metro Council candidates attending a forum hosted by a senior citizens group said Wednesday they would support a dedicated tax millage to fund the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging.
Metro Councilman Mike Walker, who did not attend the forum because of a scheduling conflict, said when contacted later that he appreciates the COA’s work on behalf of senior citizens but added, “I don’t support a new tax.” The fourth candidate in the mayor’s race, Gordon Mese, said the city-parish should be able to help seniors with its current tax base.
Nearly 40 candidates in numerous area political races participated in a marathon of debates at Baton Rouge General Hospital-Mid City, where a crowd of about 300 senior citizens gathered to hear the views of candidates on issues of concern to them.
Every candidate for mayor and Metro Council who participated was asked whether he or she would support a property tax to boost the Council on Aging’s budget.
Holden, a Democrat, said he is “for a dedicated millage” for the COA and said he would advocate for senior citizens at the state and federal level against cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.
Myers, a no-party candidate, said he would also support a dedicated tax.
He said he likes dedicated revenue streams because they’re approved by voters who decide exactly where they want the money to go.
Mese, also a no-party candidate, said he would “definitely do anything I could to help the elderly in the parish,” noting the recent loss of his father.
But he said the city-parish should be able to serve its senior population with its current tax base, without a new tax.
He said people are being taxed unnecessarily because the parish’s Unified Development Code has allowed developers to build a city that the local government cannot afford to sustain.
Mike Walker, a Republican, arrived early but had a scheduling conflict and could not stay for the debate.
The event began at 9:30 a.m., but upon arrival, the mayoral candidates learned they would not speak until after noon.
Walker, a past chairman of the Council on Aging, said in a statement: “I appreciate the great work they do for senior citizens in our parish. I think we should look for opportunities for the COA to self-generate more funds that would, in turn, make them more independent. I do not support a new tax.”
COA Director Tasha Clark-Amar said in an interview after the meeting that the agency is considering going to voters to seek a dedicated tax because the organization is not able to meet the needs of the 75,000 senior citizens in the parish with its existing resources.
She noted that surrounding parishes like West Baton Rouge, Ascension and Jefferson have dedicated taxes to support their respective Councils on Aging.
The East Baton Rouge Council on Aging has a budget of about $3.4 million — about $900,000 of which comes from the city-parish. Clark-Amar said the agency would like a $5 million budget, adding that the additional funds could help them serve the 1,500 people on their Meals on Wheels waiting list.
The Council on Aging would have to seek the authority to levy a tax from the state Legislature before putting the tax to a vote of the people.
The three incumbent Metro Council members who attended the forum — Donna Collins-Lewis, C. Denise Marcelle and Tara Wicker — also said they would support a dedicated millage.
Collins-Lewis also said she has requested the mayor’s office put an additional $200,000 of city-parish funds in the Council on Aging’s operating budget for 2013.
The idea of the dedicated tax was supported by nearly all of the Metro Council candidate who attended. Only candidates from districts 2, 6, 7, 9 and 10 attended.
All of the candidates were Democrats, except for Ted Rush, who is vying for District 9 against Joel Boé, also a Republican, who did not attend.
Rush said he would not support a tax, but he got some of the day’s biggest applause when he offered to donate an air-conditioning unit to the COA’s Florida Boulevard location.
The broken air conditioner and heating unit at the agency headquarters was a hot button issue for many in the audience, who questioned mayoral candidates about securing heating and air to the building.
Holden incited disapproving yells from many of the audience members when he suggested the agency might be able to move into a newer building downtown. He did not mention a specific site.
Clark-Amar said the senior’s building has not had working air for years, and has been estimated at $178,000 to fix because the current system is so outdated.
In addition to candidates running for council and mayor, others vying for the District 5 seat on the Louisiana Supreme Court, City Court, 1st Circuit Court of Appeals and Public Service Commission were given time to speak.
Four of the eight candidates running for Louisiana Supreme Court — John Michael Guidry, Mary Olive Pierson, Bill Morvant, and Jeffry Lamonte Sanford — attended the seniors forum.