Council swears in Wednesday

At 11 a.m. Wednesday, a dozen East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council members, including four newcomers, will be sworn in for four-year terms.

Then the real work will begin.

After choosing a mayor pro-tem, the council will need to turn its attention to public spending, several council members said.

Even though the council unanimously passed Mayor-President Kip Holden’s $780 million budget Dec. 11, several council members said they have projects they hoped to get funded, tapping sales tax revenue that is coming in at higher-than-projected levels.

“Going into next year, we still will have to look at making sure budget priorities are in line with the goals of the council,” said Tara Wicker, who will begin her second term on the council.

Holden declined a request for an interview. Spokesman Scott Dyer said in an email that the mayor would talk about his priorities for the coming year when he delivers his annual state of the parish speech during the Jan. 9 luncheon meeting of the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge.

Holden is to be officially sworn in for his third term as mayor shortly after midnight New Year’s Day and has a ceremonial inauguration scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Friday at the River Center, where he will also be making a speech, Dyer said.

Among the issues the council faces in the new year is the mayor’s proposal to buy the former Woman’s Hospital and related facilities on Airline Highway for use as a public safety complex housing the Baton Rouge Police Department and the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office.

A spokeswoman for Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said earlier this month that the Sheriff’s Office is continuing its efforts to move from its current headquarters across from City Hall to leased space at the Metro Airport, under an arrangement approved by the Metro Council earlier this year.

Holden has said the city-parish has offered $10 million for the site, which includes the hospital building, medical office buildings, support service buildings, material management buildings, a parking garage and surface parking. It could take another $10 million to renovate the complex to fit city-parish needs, Holden said earlier this month.

Funds for the purchase were not included in the 2013 budget and would have to come in a budget supplement.

“There’s this looming issue of where do the dollars come from?” Wicker said.

Trae Welch said the purchase sounds like a good idea.

“In concept, it’s a good thing,” Welch said. “We have an immediate need.”

But, Welch said, he doesn’t know that much about it.

“I would like to get some more info,” he said.

Beyond the hospital purchase, several council members have pet projects they say they hope to get funded using any tax revenue in excess of what was projected when the 2013 budget was prepared.

“There’s a lot of anticipation over a budget supplement in February,” Wicker said. “We have had some conversations about let’s get this budget passed, then let’s come together and have a real discussion about what those (spending) priorities should be.”

Wicker pointed to several summer programs for youths that she, Donna Collins-Lewis and C. Denise Marcelle have requested be funded. The projects were left out of the 2013 budget, but Wicker said she hoped to see them included in a budget supplement.

Collins-Lewis also said she hoped to work with the administration on a supplement.

“The mayor has committed to work with us,” Collins-Lewis said.

Collins-Lewis said she hoped to secure funds for three projects in her district, two of which work with underprivileged kids.

For the four new members, the emphasis is on getting up to speed.

Two of the four — John Delgado and Chauna Banks-Daniel — were elected in the Dec. 8 runoff election.

“It’s a lot,” Delgado said of the information he needed to digest in the four weeks between election and inauguration. “It’s like drinking from a fire hydrant.”

Banks-Daniel said she is focused on getting her district office up and running, as well as forming a district advisory council.

Two other newcomers, Buddy Amoroso and Ryan Heck, ran without opposition and have known since qualifying closed in August that they would be joining the Metro Council.

“I will probably wait four to six months before I come out swinging for the fences,” Heck said. “I am a big proponent of implementing FutureBR the right way and making sure it doesn’t infringe on property rights.”

Heck said he wants to look at consolidating the city Police Department and parish Sheriff’s Office.

Councilman Joel BoƩ has said he hopes to form a committee by the end of January to examine that issue.

Heck said he would oppose new expenditures and that he intends to take a close look at the city-parish’s professional service contracts.

Amoroso, who will take over the seat being vacated by Mike Walker, said Baton Rouge is at a crossroads.

“We have some tremendous opportunities,” he said. “We just have to make the right decisions.”

Several of the council members interviewed, returning and new, said the council would have to closely monitor costs associated with the city’s $1.4 billion Sanitary Sewer Overflow program.

Several said that working with Holden’s administration was a priority, but that communication needs to be in both directions.

“We have to be able to agree to disagree on both sides and still respect each other,” Collins-Lewis said. “If we disagree with the mayor or he disagrees with us, he is still the mayor and we are still the council.”