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Get to Bayou Country Superfest early, traffic will be bad, no CATS shuttle service

Baton Rouge Country Superfest returns this weekend, along with thousands of commuters who will be clogging up the roads.

And this year the city-parish is reminding concert-goers to to get on the road early because parking will be chaotic and CATS shuttles won’t be available.

Unlike last year, the Capital Area Transit System is not offering rides from the area hotels. The bus agency offered rides from downtown and a few other hotels around Baton Rouge for $10 round trips. The service yielded 4,800 trips last Memorial Day weekend.

This year, the poor condition of the fleet has prevented CATS from being able to spare buses for the additional service.

“We can’t guarantee the fleet availability without potentially compromising regular service, which needs to be the first priority,” said Amie McNaylor, executive assistant to the CATS CEO.

Here is a map of available parking:

parking

St. George budget off by $12.5 million, taxes would be raised, latest CPA report says

In this photo, a woman advocates for the proposed city of St. George. The Registrar's Office will soon determine if the petition for an election to create the city is valid. Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON

In this photo, a woman advocates for the proposed city of St. George. The Registrar’s Office will soon determine if the petition for an election to create the city is valid. Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON

Opponents of the city of St. George released a follow up report Wednesday disputing a financial study released last week that stated the proposed new city would not have to raise taxes.

The newest report, which is the third of three that have come out since December, estimates St. George would have a budget deficit of about $1 million.

Last week, St. George organizers released a report conducted by national CPA firm Carr, Riggs and Ingram that stated the new city of St. George would have a surplus of about $11 million annually and would not have to raise taxes. 

Their report was in response to a December study by local CPA firm Faulk and Winkler, hired by Baton Rouge Area Foundation and Baton Rouge Area Chamber, which stated that St. George would have to raise property taxes by at least 20.5 mills to cover city operational costs and build schools to accommodate the number of students living in the area.

Immediately, St. George opponents took issue with the CRI report. They decried the fact that the St. George report did not mention whether taxes in the area would have to be raised to build new schools for a companion school system associated with the new city. And the mayor’s staff noted that the CRI report appeared to erroneously include tax dollars from other parts of the parish in St. George’s revenues that it would not have access to.

On Wednesday, Faulk and Winkler released a three page report that essentially backs up what the mayor’s office already stated. It says that the St. George-backed report overestimates its budget by $12.5 million.

“The issue with the Committee’s forecast is that the industrial tax payers were not removed from the tax collections base of the present unincorporated area,” the most recent Faulk and Winkler report states. “As this group is identifiable and will not be included in the proposed City, the related sales tax receipts were excluded from the sales tax base to forecast sales tax receipts for the proposed incorporation.”

The CRI report, from St. George organizers, also assumed that it would collect sales taxes from Towne Center.

Phillip Rebowe, a partner with CRI, said he disagreed with the city-parish’s response. He said he thinks CRI’s method of calculations would have adequately removed those sales taxes from the budget. But even if he’s wrong, the deficit St. George is alleged to sustain is small enough that adjustments in discretionary spending could be made.

St. George spokesman Lionel Rainey said the group stands by their numbers and their report.

“We didn’t use a local firm that can be influenced by politics,” he said. “We used a firm that audits over 450 municipalities annually. This is just another thinly veiled attempt to prevent this from coming to a vote.”

St. George organizers’ latest budget project estimates annual city expenses of $54 million. It also projected $65.5 million in total revenues with $59 million coming from sales taxes.

The absence of $12.5 million in sales tax, noted by Faulk and Winkler and city-parish officials, means that St. George could be short by a million dollars.

There is one week left before the group is due to turn in at least 2,700 signatures from registered voters supporting the city to bring the incorporation issue to a vote.

A petition was turned in last October for St. George’s incorporation, the largest drive in state history, but it came up short in signatures. If the organizers cannot secure the shortfall by May 28, the petition will be voided.

The issue of whether St. George would have to raise taxes has been used ammunition by opponents of the movement. St. George leaders have maintained they’d run a more efficient government that wouldn’t require additional taxes to operate.

State Rep. Ted James said he’s open to running for EBR Mayor-President

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Baton Rouge State Rep. Ted James, a Democrat, said he is considering running for East Baton Rouge Mayor President in 2016.

James said he has been approached by interested parties who would like to see him enter the race.

“The talks have intensified in the last month or so,” he said.

James, a Baton Rouge native, said his primary focus right now is on his re-election to the Legislature this fall. But he said he won’t rule out a subsequent campaign to be the parish’s top public official.

“I’m Baton Rouge, born and raise, so to be considered is an honor,” he said.

James is a lawyer by trade. He served in Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s administration as the Governor’s Policy Adviser on Housing, Social Services and Community Development. He also served as an attorney for  Louisiana House of Representatives and as special counsel for to the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Revenue.

So far the only officially declared candidate for East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor is State Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, D-Baton Rouge. Baton Rouge Councilman John Delgado has not officially announced a run, but he is widely expected to jump into the race. Former Metro Councilman Byron Sharper also said he’s considering a run.

The mayoral election will be in fall 2016. Term-limited Mayor-President Kip Holden is running for Lt. Governor this fall. If Holden wins that race, the mayor’s race would be moved up to earlier in the year.

No Metro Council members show up at library meeting

Baton Rouge library leaders invited Metro Council members to tour the new Main Library on May 5, 2015, but none showed up. Advocate staff photo.

Baton Rouge library leaders invited Metro Council members to tour the new Main Library on May 5, 2015, but none showed up. Advocate staff photo.

No Metro Council members attended a briefing Thursday morning at the Main Library where library staffers planned to explain how they want to spend property tax money.

Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker’s legislative aide Cordia Clark attended the meeting by herself, where the library’s leaders took her on a tour of the new Main Library. They showed off features that they want to incorporate into the other branches.

While Clark paged through construction wish-lists and budget projections, rows of empty chairs and stacks of paperwork remained untouched. Canisters of coffee and orange juice, a fruit tray and a mound of McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches remained uneaten on the counter.

Library staffers are trying to persuade Metro Council members to let them hold an election for an 11.1 mill property tax in the fall.

The tax would translate to an increase on tax bills, as the library currently collects 10.78 mills in property taxes. But Library Board members say the new tax should not be considered an increase because voters have approved 11.1 mills property taxes for them in the past two elections.

The library collects 10.78 mills currently because the tax was rolled back as property values were reassessed.

Some Metro Council members reacted negatively to the news that the library was planning to ask for an 11.1 mill property tax again. A handful said they planned to vote against allowing the tax when the proposal goes before them later this month.

Library Director Spencer Watts and Assistant Director Mary Stein have held multiple meetings to line up the votes for their proposed tax. Metro Council members Tara Wicker, Joel Boé, Scott Wilson, Buddy Amoroso, Ronnie Edwards and Chauna Banks-Daniel attended the first meeting about the matter.

Councilman Delgado will try again to waive fees for Children’s Museum

Children shovel dirt at the Knock Knock Children's Museum groundbreaking in April 2015. Metro Councilman John Delgado wants the Metro Council to waive fees to build the museum despite the council already voting against it. Advocate staff photo by Patrick Dennis.

Children shovel dirt at the Knock Knock Children’s Museum groundbreaking in April 2015. Metro Councilman John Delgado wants the Metro Council to waive fees to build the museum despite the council already voting against it. Advocate staff photo by Patrick Dennis.

Metro Councilman John Delgado is asking council members a second time to waive fees for the Knock Knock Children’s Museum’s construction despite a donation from Mayor-President Kip Holden that covers the costs.

The Metro Council shot down a proposal at the end of April to waive more than $10,000 in construction and permitting fees for the Knock Knock Children’s Museum. The museum has been more than a decade in the making, and Holden vowed his support to the museum’s leaders.

Holden said he was shocked and upset that the council did not waive the fees for the nonprofit children’s museum that has raised more than $9.4 million for construction and furnishings. The next day, he wrote a personal check for more than $10,300 to cover the cost of the fees.

Holden said he took half of the money from his retirement savings from when he was at the Louisiana Legislature and he said the other half came from a personal savings account.

“The councilmen made it doom and gloom when they decided not to grant a $10,000 waiver from our departments to give to the people who have been working nine years, 10 years and more,” Holden said at the time.

Delgado, who voted in favor of waiving the fees the first time, is now bringing the issue back to the Metro Council at their May 13 meeting. He said the museum will add to Baton Rouge’s quality of life and tourism, which are issues that the Metro Council should support.

“The mayor’s generosity is tremendous, but this is something the city really should do,” Delgado said.

The resolution will need seven votes to pass.  Delgado, Chauna Banks-Daniel, Donna Collins-Lewis, C. Denise Marcelle and Tara Wicker voted in favor it of the first time.

Councilman Ryan Heck said it set a dangerous precedent to waive the fees, and he voted against doing so along with Scott Wilson, Buddy Amoroso and Joel Boé.

Trae Welch, Ronnie Edwards and Chandler Loupe were not present for the vote.

The Knock Knock Children’s museum broke ground on April 22. The museum will sit on a hill on Dalrymple Drive facing the City-Brooks Community Park and LSU lakes.

East Baton Rouge Registrar of Voters Elaine Lamb to retire at end of May

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East Baton Rouge Parish Registrar Elaine Lamb is retiring at the end of the month.

Lamb has worked for the city-parish for more than 40 years. She was appointed Registrar in 2002.

In addition to dozens of elections, Lamb oversaw two of the largest city incorporation efforts in the state with the city of Central which successfully incorporated in 2005, and the much larger city of St. George effort which is still in the process of incorporating. With a petition of more than 18,000 submitted signatures, the validation process was likely the largest in state history.

Next week the Metro Council is expected to vote on creating a screening committee to review applicants for the vacancy. The top three candidates will be reported to the Metro Council by June 17.

Capitol Heights construction lags on; Claycut Road closure delayed again

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Bad news for Capitol Heights residents and commuters.

Heavy rains over the last few weeks have again delayed the completion date for construction along Claycut Road, which has been shut off to through traffic since the beginning of February. 

Initially, the construction project, which required tearing up the road to fix the sewer lines in the area, was supposed to be finished by the end of February. It was delayed again to mid-April. Now, more rain delays have pushed the projected completion date back to the week of May 12.

Once Claycut is finished, however, there are additional road projects scheduled in the neighborhood for Capitol Heights Avenue that will continue to close parts of the neighborhood.

“We’re hanging in there,” said Tyler Hicks, Capitol Heights neighborhood association president. “A lot of residents are frustrated but they do realize that the hold up is related to weather delays.”

Sharon Weston Broome planning fund raiser for mayoral campaign

State Senator Sharon Weston Broome is getting an early start on her run for Baton Rouge mayor-president.

State Senator Sharon Weston Broome is getting an early start on her run for Baton Rouge mayor-president.

State Senator Sharon Weston Broome is off to an early start on her campaign to become Baton Rouge’s next mayor-president, and she already has a fund raiser planned for next month.

Mayor-President Kip Holden’s term runs through 2016, but he will leave his office early if he is successful in his run for lieutenant governor.

Weston Broome has previously expressed interest in running for mayor, and she has already established a campaign fund. Her fundraiser will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on May 7 at the Camelot Club, according to an event flyer.

The flyer shows that donors can contribute between $500 and $5,000 to Weston Broome’s campaign. It also lists several notable people in the community who will attend the fundraiser, including Star Hill Pastor Raymond Jetson, attorney Kris Kirkpatrick and Chicken Shack owner Joe Delpit.

Weston Broome is a member of the Democratic Party and she succeeded Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden in the State Senate in District 15. She was previously a legislator in the Louisiana House of Representatives and a Metro Council member.

Possible other mayoral candidates include Republican Metro Councilman John Delgado and former Democratic Metro Councilman Byron Sharper.

Councilwoman urges CATS Board to reject 20 percent raise for Bob Mirabito

Denise MarcelleBaton Rouge Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle is calling on the parish bus board to reject an almost 20 percent pay increase for the agency’s chief executive officer Bob Mirabito. The raise, if approved, would make Mirabito one of the highest paid public officials in the parish — out earning the mayor-president, the chief of police and various other public agency leaders.

The Capital Area Transit System Board is expected to approve a contract extension and pay increase for Mirabito at their monthly meeting today. Mirabito is posed to earn a base salary of $175,000 a year. He currently earns $147,000.

In a letter to her colleagues on the council, Marcelle says Mirabito has not effectively moved the system forward as promised to tax payers in the 2012 election.

“The expectation of CATS and its board was that CATS would be good stewards of public funds. The citizens of Baton Rouge did not invest in increasing the pay of CATS administration. Supporters and dissenters of the tax should be outraged that this issue is even coming before the board. I’m appalled at the board’s decision to put a person before the people. The dollars should be spent on the ground to improve services that are constantly being reported as insufficient and not to increase administration pay,” she said.

Marcelle notes that since the tax was passed and Mirabito was put in place, the administrative budget has increased from $1.2 million in 2012 to to $2.6 million in 2015. The budget increased from $13 million to $27 million during this time.

She said 18 of 31 routes still have wait times of an hour. CATS leaders promised the public that the agency would have average wait times of 15-20 minutes for routes during peak hours, among other promises.

Marcelle also took issue with comments Mirabito made in an interview last month describing the racial demographics of his staff and ridership. 

“The comments were reckless and embarrassing,” she said.

She said the CATS board has not released criteria to validate such a substantial increase in pay, totaling $50,000 in the past two years.

Should it be called a “Canvas” trip or a “Canvass” trip?

Is it a “Canvas” trip or a “Canvass” trip?

About 150 leaders from Baton Rouge and New Orleans are touring Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona this week as part of the BRAC and GNO Inc. organized trip. The purpose of the trips are to allow leaders to learn about successful policies and practices working in other cities, inspiring them to explore similar solutions in their home cities.

The leadership trip is dubbed the “2015 Super Region Canvas Trip” — emphasis on the single “s” on canvas.

The definition of canvas:

– a strong, rough cloth that is used to make bags, tents, sails, etc.

–  a specially prepared piece of cloth on which a picture can be painted by an artist

 – a painting made on a piece of cloth

But, the definition of canvass — emphasis on the two “s,”:

-  to examine in detail; specifically :  to examine (votes) officially for authenticity
 to go through (a district) or go to (persons) in order to solicit orders or political support or to determine opinions or sentiments 
John Paul Funes, the Baton Rouge chairman for the 2015 Canvas Trip, said the question has come up previously. But the group intentionally used the more counter-intuitive version of the word because they are likening themselves to a “blank painters’ canvas.”
The idea, he said, is that leaders are coming to other cities as clean slates to learn about other cities.