Library, mosquito officials uncertain about rededicating tax dollars for drainage

Officials with the East Baton Rouge Parish Library System and Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control are trying to gauge what would happen to their agencies if voters were to approve rededicating a portion of their tax dollars to pay for drainage and sewerage upkeep.

Such a move is being proposed by Metro Council member Dwight Hudson, who, along with several co-sponsors, will introduce the measure at the council’s June 23 meeting. If passed, parish voters would decide on the item Nov. 13.

EBRPL director Spencer Watts says he was surprised when Hudson approached him Tuesday with a fully developed plan, which included a proposed 10% cut to the library system’s budget.

Since then, Watts has been sifting through the proposal in an effort to determine what specific impact the cut would have on library operations, which he expects to better understand in the coming days. But at first glance, he has some concerns regarding potential disruptions to the system’s 10-year capital improvement plan.

“That would result in some significant changes to the services we offer to citizens,” Watts says. “It would delay timelines and shorten the scope and scale of some of our building projects and capital improvement projects.”

There could be a “disproportionate impact” on planned projects in Baker, Central and Zachary, says Watts, as well as delays on existing projects.

Moreover, Watts questions why Hudson is proposing to shift money from only two agencies rather than asking for funds from a broader base of sources.

“It’s disappointing because we’re right in the middle of our millage cycle, and we just had a significant rollback [of our property tax rate],” Watts says. “We feel like we already made a planned adjustment to our revenue source.”

Though the library generated between $3 million and $4 million in surplus funds last year, Watts says that was largely because of the hiring freeze and cutbacks in services during the pandemic, meaning not as much money was spent as would have been in a normal year. Surplus funds typically go toward capital replacements.

Meanwhile, MARC interim director Randy Vaeth says the potential rededication of certain tax dollars from MARC to drainage maintenance doesn’t look like it would significantly impact the agency during a typical year. 

However, Vaeth says there is some concern that the upcoming year will be “extremely active” for storms, which attract mosquitoes—in which case, a budget cut may carry more weight than usual. Either way, he’s bringing the proposal before the MARC board so that it can determine how specifically the budget would be affected.

“From year to year, human cases of West Nile and storms dictate what we do and how we spend our money,” Vaeth says. “We’ll need to look at this proposal in some more detail.”

Like the library system, MARC also opted to roll back its property tax rate last fall.

Still, Hudson says both of these millage rollbacks were long planned and argues that both agencies are well-funded, parishwide entities that are not constitutional offices, as is required for the kind of rededication he wants to do. He also says he’s already gotten buy-in from nine Metro Council members.