Crime prevention districts proposed

Residents concerned with crime in two Baton Rouge communities will vote Dec. 8 on whether to establish crime prevention and improvement districts in which property owners would be assessed a fee to pay for increased security patrols.

In Melrose East, two civic leaders are at odds over whether the crime prevention and improvement proposed for that district is a necessity for a community that has other needs.

The measure on the ballot would levy a fee of up to $200 annually per improved residential parcel and an initial fee of up to $500 for commercial property. The fee would be for 10 years, beginning in 2013 and ending in 2022, and would fund increased security and off-duty police patrols.

Proponents of the measure said, if passed, it would raise more than $75,000 to $100,000 in the first year.

Residents of Mayfair Heights, Mayfair Park and Mayfair Park East said they are concerned about rising crime and the welfare of older residents. The measure would place an annual parcel fee of $144 on each improved land parcel in the subdivisions for five years beginning Jan. 1, 2013, and it may be renewed after the initial five years. Proponents said they expect more than $61,000 to be raised in the first year.

In Melrose, Lewis Dill, owner of Lewco Specialty Products Inc., and president of the Melrose East Community Association, said he pushed to set up a crime prevention and improvement district in that area because he sees it as a sustainable way to deal with the major issues of crime and blight.

Melrose East generally extends from Lobdell Boulevard west to North Ardenwood Drive and from Florida Boulevard north to Renoir Avenue.

Dill said he and other business owners in Melrose East, through MECA, have funded security patrols since Aug. 2009, spending about $100,000 annually on security, beautification and cleanup. Lewis said he wanted a longer term solution that didn’t rely solely on himself and other business owners in MECA providing the financial support.

Dill said if the tax passes, he will use MECA’s money for beautification and clean-up projects.

Dill said he’s tried to recruit other businesses and residents to contribute voluntarily but they have declined to participate.

Carol Thornton, who represents apartment managers in Melrose East, said the community needs parks and after-school programs, not more police.

“I feel like Mr. Dill, who is pushing this and put this on the ballot, is not in touch with the community,” Thornton said.

Thornton, who worked at the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office for 13 years, said Melrose East residents should not have to spend money on security because she believes that crime prevention techniques she and other apartment managers implemented are proving successful.

Both Dill and Thornton said crime has decreased over the past three years and each takes credit, touting their contributions as the reason for the decline.

For the three Mayfair neighborhoods, State Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, who wrote the bill creating the district, said some of his constituents strongly favored creating a security district and wanted a chance to vote on the issue.

The Mayfair district would encompass the physical boundaries of the three neighborhoods, which generally includes the area south of Hyacinth Ave., between Windingway Drive to the east, Mayfair Hill Drive to the west and Blackmore Avenue to the south.

Foil said Herman Holmes, a lawyer who has lived in the Mayfair area for 30 years, approached him with the idea, helped write the bill and spoke to the legislature about why a crime prevention improvement district would be beneficial for residents.

Holmes said population growth and more traffic have brought crime problems in recent years, including home burglaries, and said he views the crime prevention district as a means to hopefully deter violent crime in the area.

“We try to be proactive; we’re trying to get a jump on something before it gets bad,” Holmes said. “We’ve been fortunate in Mayfair not to have any violent activity.”

Holmes said he attended a Broadmoor Homeowners Association meeting when they were trying to get their district passed and learned that it is a good way to spread the cost of the security patrols over all the residents.

Metro Councilman Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois, whose council district includes the Mayfair neighborhoods, said people in the area are getting older and the “punks are trying to move in and they are causing some trouble over there.”

Bourgeois said the only item he insisted on, which was included in the bill, was a provision that the fee would not be assessed on a parcel if any of the owners are over the age 65. He said his main concern was to not impose a financial hardship for people living on a fixed income.