Councilman proposes giving voters a second crack at Council on Aging tax

    Metro Council member Dwight Hudson is proposing an ordinance that would give voters an opportunity this fall to rededicate the 2.25 mill property tax they narrowly approved last fall to help fund the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging.

    Hudson’s ordinance would place the measure on the Nov. 18 ballot. If approved by voters, it would rededicate the estimated $8 million a year the millage is expected to generate to “senior services,” which Hudson says would be provided by an outside agency.

    “I see this as a middle ground,” he says. “We’re not trying to take money away from seniors. We just want to make sure it is spent wisely.”

    Hudson says he’s not sure which agency or agencies would provide the services currently provided to local seniors by the COA. But he suggests the parish could contract with St. Vincent de Paul to handle the Meals on Wheels program, and that it could farm out other services to other area COAs.

    “Those are details we’ll be working out in the coming weeks,” he says.

    As for who would oversee the funds generated by the tax in the absence of the COA, Hudson says a special program might have to be created to oversee the money and contract out for senior services.

    Hudson drafted the ordinance largely in response to the May 10 failure of a bill in the legislature by Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge that would have reorganized the COA board of directors and given several entities greater oversight of the board. The bill was narrowly defeated along party lines by a House committee after a contentious debate.

    “If that had passed and we had been able to get the right people on board, this would be unnecessary,” Hudson says.   

    The COA has been under fire for financial mismanagement and a variety of questionable dealings since the tax passed last year. A recent Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s report found the nonprofit agency engaged in potentially illegal activity by using COA resources to campaign for the tax.

    Hudson’s proposed ordinance has been placed on the Metro Council agenda for introduction at the June 14 meeting. Assuming the measure, which is sure to be controversial, gets that far, it will be debated by the council on July 26.

    Already it is drawing opposition. Metro Council member Tara Wicker, who chaired the COA board of directors more than a decade ago, says it doesn’t make sense to contract out services with a variety of agencies. Though she concedes the agency has management problems at the moment, she says it’s the best agency to provide services to area seniors.

    “You’re not going to find another, better depository to make sure the services are coordinated in one location,” she says. “They don’t just do Meals on Wheels. They do a lot of things. It does home services. So for us to start picking it up and putting it in other places, it brings unnecessary confusion to the senior community.”

    —Stephanie Riegel

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