EBR council approves mayor’s proposed 2014 budget

The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council approved the city-parish’s 2014 budget of $805 million Tuesday as proposed by Mayor-President Kip Holden, without making a single change.

Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel circulated an email just hours before the budget meeting, asking her fellow council members to consider more than $600,000 in changes. However, she didn’t propose any of the changes when it came time to discuss the budget.

Banks-Daniel said after the meeting that she did not believe she had the votes to make the changes. Only Banks-Daniel and Ronnie Edwards voted against approving Holden’s proposed budget.

Holden’s budget represents a 3 percent increase over the 2013 budget. About 55 percent of the general fund is dedicated to public safety, and includes both a police academy for 25 new officers and fire department academy for 30 new firefighters.

The budget also includes $1 million for police vehicles; $900,000 for renovations at the old Woman’s Hospital on Airline Highway, which is being converted into a new police and Sheriff’s Office headquarters; $1.5 million for an incentive payment to IBM in Baton Rouge; and $100,000 for the 2017 U.S. Bowling Congress Women’s Championship.

Holden said he was prepared for a long debate, but was pleased by the council’s swift approval of the budget.

“It’s a testament to those who stuck with us,” he said.

“We see the faith and confidence they place in us, and we still may have differences down the line, but we are content to work everything out.”

Holden noted that Baton Rouge recently became the only city in Louisiana with a AAA bond rating from Standard & Poor’s Rating Services, which he said further validates the responsible financial decisions being made by the city-parish.

While Holden’s proposed budget sailed through unchanged, Edwards joined Banks-Daniel in voting against it. Edwards said she did not think it wise for the council to “rubber stamp everything that comes before us.”

She said she was disappointed that the Mayor’s Office did not make further efforts to increase pay for low-paid Department of Public Works employees and failed to address what she said were valid concerns by the Coroner’s Office and the 19th Judicial Courthouse about funding shortfalls.

“Those things should have been given more attention and it’s a shame they were not,” she said. “I couldn’t in good conscience vote to support 100 percent of the budget before us.”

The email Banks-Daniel sent to other council members suggested making the following changes to Holden’s proposed budget:

Transferring $70,000 from the Companion Animal Alliance animal shelter group to the Coroner’s Office to fund a sexual assault nurse. Last month, the coroner told the council he was understaffed.

Transferring $56,550 from Big Buddy and $25,280 from reserve funds for a total of $81,830 to fund a licensed clinical social worker in prison medical services. Last month, Judge Trudy White expressed a need for a social worker to process people with mental health issues who were being arrested for misdemeanors.

Transferring $21,960 from the reserve fund to give each council budget an additional $1,830 for district mail-outs to communicate better with constituents.

Transferring $90,000 from a reserve fund to fund four code enforcement specialists.

Giving the Metro Council control of the Constituent and Neighborhood Services Program, by transferring the entire $402,500 budget from the Mayor’s Office to the Metro Council. The program is designed to connect residents with services.

Banks-Daniel said she hopes the requests can be fulfilled at a later date. “Sometimes a seed planted today could be for tomorrow,” she said.