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East Baton Rouge Parish

Police seek pay raise

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on 09/24/02    
Council given revenue options for raises


Advocate staff writer

After hearing months of demands from Baton Rouge police officers and other employees who want pay raises, Mayor Bobby Simpson's top assistant has given the Metro Council a list of ways to raise revenue by $10 million or more.

The city-parish expects $207 million in general fund revenue this year and $213 million in 2003, but most of the increase is obligated to pay for the rising costs of retirement benefits and health insurance.

The memo from Chief Administrative Officer Paul Thompson lists six new ways to raise government revenue, and all six would hit residents in the pocketbook.

Thompson didn't endorse any of the options, but sent them to council members last week in a memo noting what it would take to enact them. The options are:

Increasing fees collected to defray solid waste collection costs for parish residences. With administrative costs included, it costs $15.14 per household per month for the city-parish to have Browning-Ferris Industries Inc. collect garbage, but the city-parish charges each household just $8.40 a month. The city-parish pays the difference from its general fund, which amounts to $5.5 million a year.

The council can raise the monthly fee up to $15.14 without voter approval.

Rolling forward the city-parish's property tax, currently 89.69 mills, to the full amount authorized by Louisiana law, to produce about $440,000 annually. The council can raise property taxes in Baton Rouge .16 mills without voter approval or legislative action and can similarly raise property taxes in the rest of the parish by another .14 mills.

The difference resulted when the council in 2000 opted to not take the extra revenue that would have resulted from a parishwide reassessment of all property that took into account some of the general appreciation in property values. To nullify the effect of a general increase in assessments, the council accepted a rollback of millage rates.

Creating, via an intergovernmental agreement, a new $35-per-structure fee for law enforcement, similar to the fire district service fees in the parish outside the city limits. A $35-per structure fee would raise $2.1 million. Creating the fee would require action by the Metro Council and the Sheriff's Office.

In the same vein, a new municipal law enforcement district could assess its own $35 fee. The move would require authority granted by the Legislature, council action and voter approval.

A new property tax, similar to the 6-mill tax passed by firefighters in 2000. Each mill of new property tax would bring in about $1 million of revenue, Thompson wrote. The move would require council action and voter approval.

The Enhanced 911 fee, 50 cents charged on each monthly phone bill in the parish, could be increased to $2 a month, which would bring in $3 million in new revenue.

Raising the fee would require consent of the Legislature and the board of the East Baton Rouge Parish Communication District, a group that includes the leaders of the Police Department, Louisiana State Police, the Fire Department, the Sheriff's Office, and the mayors of Baker and Zachary. It would not require Metro Council action.

Thompson said that the Simpson administration is not pushing any of the options and has only contacted council members to let them know what's on the table. The city-parish hasn't contacted outside agencies that would also be involved in some of the options, such as the Sheriff's Office, and those agencies are holding their decisions until the city-parish's plans and rationales are presented.

"How can we comment on something that hasn't been brought before us?" sheriff's spokesman Lt. Darrell O'Neal said.

Council members, meanwhile, are divided.

Councilman Wayne Carter, who suggested several of the revenue-building proposals in discussions with city-parish officials, said he's anxious to see the city-parish explore all its options.

"The money's out there if we look in the right places," Carter said.

He said he would have to study Thompson's proposals more before deciding which ones he likes.

Councilman Mike Walker, who has since his 2000 campaign talked up raising police pay, said he doesn't approve of the methods Thompson proposes.

"At first blush it sounds like all we're going to do is underhandedly increase everybody's taxes and fees on everything," Walker said. "That's not the right kind of new revenue. I think the public's going to be outraged."

Thompson said he couldn't argue with the notion that some of the proposals would be poorly received. Thompson added that the council can decide how to handle each item.

"I'm not suggesting they be underhanded," Thompson said. "They can be as up front with anything as they want to."

He said the administration came up with the ideas after its meetings with council members and leaders of city-parish employees' unions who are concerned with local government's ability to pay its workers competitive wages.

Noel Salamoni, president of the Baton Rouge Union of Police Local 237, said he needs more time to investigate the options before lending support. Police officers have already said they don't want to ask voters for a property tax to raise their pay, contending that enough money can be trimmed from the city-parish's current budget. The union has specified cutting ancillary community-action programs that would provide just a fraction of the money needed for the requested pay raise.

Ron Neimark, state director for the Local 100 Service Employees International Union that represents many city-parish and School Board workers, said he's glad to see Simpson's administration exploring ways to "raise city-parish workers' pay to a living wage."

Neimark had criticized the police approach to its pay-raise request because it didn't include raises for non-supervisory workers Local 100 represents in city-parish government, such as public works crews. He noted that Thompson's options take into account all employees.

"We're certainly encouraged," he said.

Louisiana Democracy Project, Inc.