COA pushes back against Metro Council’s proposed millage review

East Baton Rouge Council on Aging (file photo)

The East Baton Rouge Council on Aging sent a letter to Metro Council members Wednesday, opposing plans to form a committee to review and possibly adjust millage rates for taxing jurisdictions, such as the COA.

The letter, penned by COA Board Chair Jennifer Moisant, touts the agency’s work in meeting the growing needs of senior citizens, while defending the COA’s 2.25-mill dedicated property tax, which won narrow approval in a controversial 2016 election.

“As a board, we oppose any actions by the Metro Council which would reduce the funds East Baton Rouge Parish voters approved to be allocated to the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging for senior services,” Moisant writes.

The Metro Council millage review proposal—sponsored by council members Scott Wilson, Dwight Hudson and Tara Wicker—was sparked by growing concerns of unchecked spending and surpluses at city-parish agencies funded by dedicated millages.

For instance, the COA’s dedicated property tax collected $1.6 million more in 2018 than the originally projected $7.8 million.

The COA, however, argues demand for senior services has “skyrocketed” to the point where needs are still not being fully met with the agency’s above-expectation funding.

“This past year we spent $9.5 million of the $9 million in tax millage received,” Moisant writes. “A cursory review of our books reveals there is NO surplus as previously reported.”

The COA’s letter also calls a millage review “redundant” because, based on the Cooperative Endeavor Agreement with the parish, the agency must provide quarterly financial reports to the council, explaining revenue and expenditures. Moisant says creating a committee to review the agency would be duplicative of existing procedures.

Wilson and Hudson were not immediately available for comment. But Wicker says she supports the COA and does not want to reduce the agency’s millage. The councilwoman has ties to the agency, previously serving as chair of the COA board.

“They’re still trying to crawl out of a hole of being way behind in funding,” Wicker says.

The purpose of the millage review committee, she adds, is to take a holistic view of all dedicated millages to see where there are surpluses of available dollars that can be used for priorities that may be underfunded.

Several city-parish agencies are funded by dedicated millages, including BREC, CATS, the Library Board of Control and Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control. BREC and CATS, however, are political subdivisions of the state so the Metro Council has no say over their millages.

Recent spending at the mosquito abatement department, which has a 1.2-mill property tax, is another reason for the council’s growing interest in adjusting dedicated funds.

The Metro Council will vote on the millage review proposal at the Jan. 23 meeting.

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