Council, committee discuss bond plan

Five Metro Council members took the final few minutes of the Capital Improvements Committee meeting Wednesday to ask Mayor-President Kip Holden’s staff some tough questions about the $748 million bond proposal.

The committee meeting marked the first opportunity for the council to meet with Holden’s staff since details of the bond issue were released July 7.

Councilman Joel Boé asked the staff members why questions he emailed to the administration about the bond proposal had not been answered.

Public Works interim Director William Daniel offered members of the council the opportunity to meet individually with staff to discuss concerns and questions about the mayor’s third attempt at getting a bond proposal approved.

Boé also asked if the same courtesy — of meeting to discuss the proposal — will be extended to law enforcement officials such as the sheriff and the district attorney.

District Attorney Hillar Moore III sent a letter to the mayor and the council Friday asking for a tax that would provide operational funding for his office to be included in the public safety portion of the bond issue.

John Carpenter, chief administrative officer to the mayor, said that his staff wanted to meet first with council members, but is willing to meet with law enforcement and the district attorney.

Holden was not present for the meeting.

Councilman Ulysses “Bones” Addison told Carpenter and Daniel that he was trying to refrain from losing his temper while explaining that this was the third time infrastructure needs in his district were passed over in a bond issue.

Addison’s district includes areas in North Baton Rouge and Baker.

He asked if the mayor was willing to amend the bond proposal and include suggestions from the council, sheriff and district attorney.

Carpenter said some adjustments could be made. As an example, he said, the $52 million City Hall renovation, which is included under the public safety component of the package, could possibly be moved into the infrastructure package.

For the first time, the bond package is divided into three components for voters to choose from: public safety, infrastructure and economic development.

But Carpenter said it would be impossible for each district to get all of the projects that are important to each of the council members.

Councilwoman Alison Gary, formerly Alison Cascio, asked if the bond proposal took the Future BR land use plan, released last month, into consideration.

“We paid a lot of money for that plan,” she said. “To me it seems like that should be the guiding document to policies and how we spend money. The projects in this bond are from years ago. Are we forcing these two projects to mesh?”

Carpenter said that the bond issue is closely tied to Future BR plans, and assured her that Future BR leaders would tell her the same thing.

Councilman Scott Wilson chided the administration for waiting until the last minute to deliver a proposal that is very similar to the past two attempts.

“I think it’s sad we get it so late in the game, but I know you have your marching orders,” he said.

Wilson said before the meeting that he would not support sending the bond issue to a vote.

Daniel said the delay was related to losing the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers as a partner in the bond issue.

He said the Corp was involved with many drainage projects in past proposals, but withdrew from this bond issue over a lack of financing, causing DPW to have to start from scratch.

“I understand your feeling,” Daniel told Wilson. “But we worked on these drainage projects until the day before the council got the package.”

The council has to approve placing the bond package on the Nov. 19 ballot.

In other business before the committee on Wednesday:

BLUE BAYOU ZONING REQUEST: A zoning request that would have allowed for the expansion of Blue Bayou/Dixie Landin’ was killed by the Metro Council Zoning Board.

Owner Sam Haynes attempted to get the 65-acre parcel of land zoned for heavy commercial to use for storage, parking and a limited park expansion.

But local residents fought him, insisting Haynes resubmit his request as a planned unit development, or PUD, which requires more details and allows more opportunities for the public to weigh in on elements of the development.

The planning commission also recommended a PUD.

Randy Roussel, the lawyer for Blue Bayou/Dixie Landin’, said pursuing a PUD could adversely impact his client’s ability to receive loans needed for park improvements and attractions.

Roussel said Haynes will not acquiesce to submitting a PUD, and will likely file suit against the city-parish, “saying that their vote was arbitrary and capricious.”