Holden: Jindal should reconsider cuts

Links s ocial services to public safety

Mayor-President Kip Holden on Wednesday urged Gov. Bobby Jindal to reconsider state budget cuts for mental health and domestic violence social services, saying the cuts would cause “fallout” in Louisiana’s capital city.

Holden’s comments were part of his annual “State of the Parish” address to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge, during which Holden linked crime, infrastructure and economic development, among others, as related issues.

“The parish as a whole saw a total of 14 domestic violence-related deaths last year,” Holden said. “As we continue to see deep budget cuts to mental health services and domestic violence programs at the state level, we must realize that the fallout from this endangers cities and public safety.”

The budget cuts would reduce the number of beds at one East Baton Rouge Parish domestic violence shelter by one-third, Holden said. The shelter already turns away five women per day, Holden said.

Audrey Wascome, interim director of the Capital Area Family Violence Intervention Center, did not return a telephone call Wednesday, but The Advocate reported last week that state budget cuts would cut that shelter’s bed count by a third.

Holden said he has joined with several local legislators in asking the governor to reconsider the cuts.

While critical of the cuts to social services, Holden lauded the governor for his decision to contribute $13.9 million in state funds to build an automobile training facility as part of the Baton Rouge Community College’s new campus in Smiley Heights. He also praised Jindal for pledging $12 million to help widen Essen Lane from Perkins Road to Interstate 10.

Echoing one of the major themes of his successful 2012 re-election campaign, Holden said the approach to fighting crime must be multipronged.

“We must address the root causes of crime in our society,” he said. Those causes, he said, include education and jobs.

The mayor lauded the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination project.

“Since the BRAVE project began last June, it has made over 300 narcotic arrests,” Holden said.

He said the officers connected with the project had seized 46 handguns from felony offenders and confiscated more than $1 million worth of drugs.

“Before the implementation of BRAVE, Baton Rouge was averaging more than seven homicides per month,” Holden told the crowd. “Since that time, the homicide rate has dropped by 60 percent.”

Holden said the city-parish should take advantage of the opportunity to purchase the old Woman’s Hospital site at Goodwood Boulevard and Airline Highway for a combined Baton Rouge Police Department and East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s headquarters.

“Our original bond issue proposed a new joint headquarters at a cost of $100 million,” Holden said, referring to a bond proposal that parish voters rejected in 2009.

The city has offered $10 million for the Woman’s Hospital site, with renovation costs estimated at another $10 million. A purchase would have to be approved by the Metro Council.

“Now we have a unique opportunity to create a combined law enforcement presence in the center of the city,” he said.

Holden also said he planned to make city-parish government more efficient.

“We are reducing energy consumption, air pollution and costs for efficiency in our buildings and vehicles,” he said.

Holden pointed to the Baton Rouge Junior High School site, which now houses some of the Department of Public Works.

“This year we renovated a 90-year-old junior high school,” he said. “It is the first city-parish building to generate its own power through solar panels.”

Holden said the city-parish must continue to be proactive in recruiting new businesses to the area.

“For the past year, we have been working to secure a major retailer to redevelop a closed industrial site,” he said.

Holden did not name the retailer, but said he hoped to have an announcement in the coming months.

Holden would not limit his recruiting to American companies, he said.

He said he plans to travel to Taiwan this year.

Efforts to brand Baton Rouge as a medical destination will continue, he said.

Holden touted his administration’s efforts to improve traffic congestion in East Baton Rouge Parish, something he said will improve quality of life and make it easier to recruit companies to the parish.

“This year, the largest road project in the history of East Baton Rouge Parish will be completed, the long-awaited Central Thruway,” he said.

The project will cost approximately $70 million, Holden said.

Holden made no mention of the controversial Baton Rouge loop project, of which he has been a leading proponent. Leaders of several parishes along the proposed route have withdrawn their support from the project.

Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker, who attended the speech, said the mayor hit a lot of issues.

“It was very broad,” she said. “My hope was that there would have been a little more about our overall connection as a city.”