Holden proposes $780 million 2013 budget

East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden on Monday presented a $780.5 million city-parish budget for 2013 that includes additional funds for a police and fire academy.

The 2013 budget has a projected growth of 4.2 percent over this year’s budget of $748.8 million. By comparison, the city-parish budget grew by less than half a percent from 2011 to 2012.

“Public safety continues to be this administration’s top priority,” Holden said as he delivered the budget to the Metro Council. “Our first responders have been given the necessary resources to maintain the highest possible ratings according to the national standards.”

Holden said increased revenue from the city-parish’s 2 percent sales tax have boosted the general fund. Sales tax collections were up 7.9 percent through August compared with the same period last year, which Holden said was due in part to events like Bayou Country Superfest and the U.S. Bowling Congress event and partnerships with the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and Baton Rouge Film Commission.

Holden unveiled his proposed budget one day before the primary election where he will face Metro Councilman Mike Walker, businessman Gordon Mese and attorney Steve Myers. According to the Plan of Government, the budget must be presented to the Metro Council on or before Nov. 5.

Finance Director Marsha Hanlon said her staff did not finish the budget until Sunday.

Walker criticized the mayor for working on the budget “behind closed doors” and for waiting “until the last possible moment to present” it.

“This is a sad reminder of the mayor’s inability to work with the Metro Council in a fair and transparent way and demonstrates a total lack of leadership,” Walker said. “The 30 days we will have to review is nowhere near enough time for 12 council members to read, digest and formulate thoughts and opinions on how the mayor plans to spend ($780) million in tax dollars.”

Walker said he will meet with council members regularly to seek their input on the budget if he is elected mayor-president.

Myers said the budget would not be acceptable to a Myers administration “if there is a dollar of funding” going to any programs before the core missions of local government, infrastructure and public safety, are fully funded.

Mese, who has run on a platform of rewriting the parish’s blue print for land use and development called the Unified Development Code, said the parish’s infrastructure shortfalls contribute to the lack of funds available to meet the city-parish’s needs.

Fixing the UDC would draw more private investors and improve city-parish infrastructure, which would increase overall wealth that would eventually boost the city-parish coffers, Mese said.

The mayor’s budget included major increases for public safety including a 7.2 percent increase for the Baton Rouge Police Department, bringing that agency’s total budget to $84.3 million.

The additional revenue will fund a 30 person police academy that will begin in late February.

The Baton Rouge Fire Department received $47.1 million, an increase of 5.72 percent over 2012. The fire department is also funded for a 30 person academy that will begin in June.

The Coroner’s Office received a 26 percent increase, bringing its total budget to $1.8 million. The increases are needed to fund a regional autopsy program and to hire additional investigators for a an increasing number of deaths that must be investigated, according to the budget document..

The District Attorney received $5.25 million — a 6 percent increase over its 2012 allocation of $4.9 million. The allocation includes $100,000 to hire two additional homicide prosecutors.

Last year, the Metro Council criticized the mayor-president’s budget for underfunding the district attorney’s office and Baton Rouge Alcohol and Drug Center.

The council ultimately voted, against the advice of the administration, to remove money from the city-parish reserve funds to give the district attorney an additional $250,000 and the drug center an additional $150,000.

Holden’s 2013 budget increased the district attorney’s budget beyond what it was with the council’s appropriation this year, and he kept the $150,000 in the drug center’s budget for a total allocation of $319,000.

The Capital Area Transit System, which has historically received funds from the city-parish, did not receive its request for $3 million from the general fund. But CATS will receive $550,000 from a dedicated Parish Transportation Funds allocated from the state.

CATS officials included the $3 million appropriation into their projections when crafting their service plan that was advertised to the public ahead of a 10.6-mill tax that voters in Baton Rouge and Baker vote passed in April. Officials say the loss of those funds could have repercussions on their ability to deliver all the promised services.

Holden’s budget also for the first time in recent years did not include a discretionary account for economic development and community programs for the first time in recent years. Last year, the Metro Council made an unprecedented move by assigning themselves control of the mayor’s $808,850 programs fund and later fought for several months over how to spend those discretionary dollars.

The budget shows the Metro Council requested their own discretionary pot, for the same number as this year, but that the request was denied.

The Metro Council also sought $775,000 of earmarked funds for various programs including the East Baton rouge Council on Aging, Big Buddy and myriad youth employment and tutoring programs. The funds were denied, except for a $200,000 allocation for the Big Buddy Level Up Youth Internship Program.

The Council on Aging did get its regular allocation of $876,300, which is the same amount it has been receiving from the general fund for several years. The Metro Council had wanted to earmark an additional $200,000 for the Council on Aging.

The Baton Rouge Center for World Affairs was also denied funding. The nonprofit, which welcomed international visitors, provided education and held multicultural festivals, received city-parish funding for several years. But last year the Metro Council voted to strip its $115,000 allocation and give it to another nonprofit.

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber was also funded for another $450,000 to promote economic development in the parish.

The Metro Council, which has the ability to move line items in the mayor’s budget with eight votes, will vote on the budget Dec. 11.