The Metro Council is expected Wednesday to spend the remaining $201,000 it has left in a discretionary account that started out at $808,850.
As of Monday, four council members had submitted separate, competing requests to fund various summer youth programs. Taken together, the requests total $410,000. That means Metro Council members on Wednesday will have to choose which of their peers’ programs to support.
Councilwoman Tara Wicker is proposing to use $50,000 for a summer work program with Louisiana Arts and Entertainment, an organization that works with the film industry. The program would provide 25 teens a paid summer job learning skills useful to the state’s growing film industry, she said.
Wicker said it’s clear that a summer employment program is important to many council members and she was disappointed they didn’t come together to propose a collaborative plan, rather than each presenting separate plans.
“My preference was for all of us to come together and decide (how to spend the money), but because of the time frame and decisions made, that just wasn’t an option,” Wicker said. “We’re left at this point trying to fund programs for our district and the kids we represent.”
Wicker said she wants the employment program to benefit teens, while also creating a skilled workforce for the growing film industry.
“We have this tax credit to increase the film industry but we don’t have a workforce to fill the need,” Wicker said. “I wanted to draw a straight line from the problem to solution.”
Several council members representing low-income neighborhoods have lamented the loss in 2010 of a youth employment program that had provided hundreds of summer jobs to local teens in recent years. The program was paid for with federal stimulus dollars that have since dried up, said Gwen Hamilton, assistant chief administrative officer to the mayor.
“That’s the best deterrent for crime there is,” Wicker said. “Otherwise you would have kids that are out on the street with nothing to do.”
Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards also requested from the same fund $50,000 for Abounding Love Ministries and the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School to provide summer job opportunities through the Delmont Community Center, which is in her district.
Edwards could not be reached for comment Monday about her proposal.
Edwards and Wicker placed their requests on the council agenda last week. They will vie for funding against requests that council members Donna Collins-Lewis and C. Denise Marcelle already had pending before the council.
Collins-Lewis wants to use almost all of the remaining funds — $200,000 — to pay Big Buddy to host a summer teen employment and training program for 100 high school students throughout the parish offering each of the participants a $1,500 stipend and an internship that could lead to a full-time job.
Marcelle proposed giving $50,000 to St. Paul Adult Learning Center to hold a summer camp for between 75 and 85 youngsters between the ages of 4 and 14 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in her district. She also proposed using $60,000 split between the Chaneyville, Leo S. Butler and Jewel J. Newman community centers for summer youth programs.
Council Administrator Brian Mayers said the items will be considered by the council in the order they were submitted, which means if Collins-Lewis’ item, which was submitted first, is approved, then no other items will be considered for lack of funds.
Councilman Scott Wilson said he is disappointed that the council spent its discretionary account money so quickly and disagrees with using the money for individual district needs.
“Here we are five months into the year and almost all the money is gone,” he said, adding that he thinks the fund should have been reserved for crime or economic development programs that benefit the entire parish.
“I’ve got things in my district that I need done but I’m not going to do that, it’s not fair,” he said. “If we were going to spend it on individual projects, then we should have just divided the money by 12 and put it in all council member accounts.”
Wilson said he will vote against all of the proposed uses for the funds on Wednesday.
The council’s discretionary account is the only undesignated pot of money the council can tap into year-round. The fund has traditionally been under the mayor’s control, but the council voted in December to take control of the money.
The mayor budgeted the funds for a mixture of economic development and charitable causes.
The Metro Council has approved some items the mayor originally budgeted, including a lobbyist contract for the state Legislature for $110,000 and $100,000 for the Truancy Center. However, the council has also tapped the fund for other initiatives, including $150,000 for an anti-gun violence program and $50,000 for a two-week trial of a misdemeanor jail.