Monsour seeking more funding from city-parish

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Walter Monsour, president of the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority, talked about the agency's accomplishments and its need for a stable source of funding during a   Metro Council budget hearing Tuesday. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Walter Monsour, president of the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority, talked about the agency's accomplishments and its need for a stable source of funding during a Metro Council budget hearing Tuesday.

The president of the East Baton Rouge Parish Redevelopment Authority told the Metro Council on Tuesday that his agency has only secured funding for the next three-and-a-half years, and would like to eventually receive a dedicated revenue stream from the city-parish budget.

Walter Monsour, the RDA’s president since 2009, made his pitch at the Metro Council’s final budget hearing.

The council has hosted a series of hearings for various publicly funded agencies and departments to explain their 2013 budgets, but the RDA — a quasi-public organization that develops under served areas — was the only agency to present that does not receive a regular allocation from the city-parish.

The only funding the RDA has received from the city-parish was $200,000 included in a budget supplement this year for the Mid-City Urban Renewal District and the Smiley Heights Urban Village Development Project.

Monsour said he will present a report to the mayor and the Metro Council in the next few months making a case for permanent funding.

Asked after the hearing if he was seeking to be included in a possible midyear budget supplement for 2013, Monsour said, “Obviously, I’d like to get permanent funding settled for the RDA as quickly as possible.”

He said he would let the mayor and council ultimately decide the appropriate level of funding for the RDA, but added that if he could receive “steady revenue of $3 million, we could turn it into $45 to $46 million easily.”

He said the sooner he gets permanent funding in place, the sooner he can hire more staff and plan additional projects.

The agency, which employs 10 people, was created by the state Legislature in 2007 and staffed in 2009.

Its $1.1 million operating budget primarily comes from grants from the East Baton Rouge Parish Mortgage Finance Authority and fees on New Market Tax Credits it has applied for and allocated for redevelopment projects. Those funds will last the agency for the next three-and-a-half years, Monsour said.

The agency has applied for more New Market Tax Credits, and Monsour said he feels the agency is well-positioned to receive them. But he said that source is not a steady or secure stream of revenue.

“Our task now is to set the future for East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority,” he said after the hearing. “We need to stabilize its funding so we can get much-bigger business, even more than we’ve already undertaken.”

Monsour said in the past three years the RDA has delivered on many of its promises and proven that it is worthy of permanent funding.

“I’m convinced we’ve made a substantial case for permanent funding and we’ll be able to show the assets we bring in terms of economic development, helping education as well as helping reduce crime,” Monsour said, after the hearing.

Monsour also noted that his agency has recently been charged with implementing FutureBR, the city-parish’s new land use and development policy.

But Monsour, a former chief administrative officer to Mayor-President Kip Holden, knows first-hand how tight the city-parish’s budget is and how difficult it can be to get elected officials to provide additional funding for agencies.

He noted that it was the mayor and the former council’s idea to create the agency in the first place, adding that “this is not just any agency coming forward.”

“The problem is not, ‘What if we go away?’ ” Monsour said. “It’s how do you implement FutureBR, how do you eliminate blight and how do you reach the underserved areas? That’s why we were made. And the council and the mayor will have to determine how to prioritize funding.”

Last month, Monsour said he would not seek a tax, but suggested additional city-parish funds could be raised for the RDA by increasing fees on code enforcement violations.

Monsour delivered only a brief presentation to the council, mostly outlining the RDA’s successes since its formation, with little discussion from council members, who were also hearing presentations from other agencies at Tuesday’s budget hearing. The council is set to vote on the mayor’s proposed budget for 2013 on Dec. 11.