Though the city-parish needs to come up with some $40 million upfront to pay for badly needed drainage projects, the Metro Council has yet to publicly discuss any potential funding options. However, some members say they’ve begun to brainstorm ideas to find the funds.
Ultimately, roughly $65 million is needed in local match money to move forward with improvements to five key drainage canals in the parish, including Bayou Fountain, Jones Creek, Beaver Bayou, Blackwater Bayou and Ward’s Creek. Officials say the Army Corps of Engineers has made $25 million available, which Baton Rouge would have to repay over a 30-year period.
Which leaves $40 million the local government would likely need to find in the city’s budget—and quickly, based on recent pleas from constituents who flooded on June 6 after heavy rainfall.
After speaking with finance department officials, councilman Matt Watson says he’s eyeing several funding options, including tapping into some budget surplus dollars and the city’s rainy day fund. He’s also looking into the possibility of taking some drainage-related funds out of a $49 million pot of money within the MovEBR program dedicated to infrastructure improvements, though city-parish Transportation and Drainage Director Fred Raiford says he’s unsure of the legality of doing so.
“It would be sad to see these federal dollars go because of the administration’s mismanagement in coming up with a local match,” Watson says, adding the council should examine the budget soon. “Money doesn’t grow on trees—we have to look in every place we’ve got.”
Other members have taken a more hesitant approach, as Mayor Sharon Weston Broome is scheduled to meet with Gov. John Bel Edwards and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves in the coming weeks to discuss potential federal and state financial aid—an avenue Raiford says is regularly used by cities for similar projects.
Last week, councilwoman Barbara Freiberg told Daily Report she wanted to take money out of the rainy day fund. But since then, she’s met with the mayor and says she will wait for the three leaders to come up with options before pushing for council action.
“I’m optimistic they’ll find a solution, hopefully within the next couple of weeks,” Freiberg says. “If they don’t, it will be critical the Metro Council take a look at the budget.”
Meanwhile, councilwoman Tara Wicker says she’s frustrated she learned from media outlets about the city’s problems finding a local match, having just returned from Washington, D.C., where she met with officials who she says could have helped secure additional money.
“Transparent conversations need to happen immediately. I don’t know of any sources offhand, but there might be some wiggle room within the budget,” says Wicker. “I don’t think we have a choice.”
Councilmembers Dwight Hudson, Denise Amoroso, Chauna Banks, Donna Collins-Lewis, Scott Wilson, Lamont Cole, Erika Green and Trae Welch did not respond to requests for comment before this afternoon’s deadline.