The budget for a proposed tire shredder program that would be run by the East Baton Rouge Parish Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control District has been cut by nearly half, from $1.6 million to some $888,000.
But of that new amount, some $605,000 will be reimbursed by a federal grant from the Centers for Disease Control that the parish secured in 2018, leaving local taxpayers with a bill for $284,000.
The cost reduction of the controversial project helped change the minds of some council members, who were outraged late last year, when MARC Director Todd Walker couldn’t explain or justify for the council how a $600,000 tire shredder that the CDC had already agreed to fund with a $600,000 grant had ballooned into a $1.6 million project.
At the time, Councilman Dwight Hudson said the baffling price tag “raised a big red flag.”
Now, however, Hudson says he can support the project, intended to help eliminate hundreds of abandoned used tires in low-income areas that’s contributing to blight and creating breeding pools for mosquitos.
“I’m more comfortable with it now because they’ve been able to bring their costs under control,” Hudson says. “It shows what can happen when the council exercises oversight of agencies.”
The cost reductions came after city-parish officials met with Walker in December and slashed several expenses from his proposed budget that they said were unnecessary. Among the items scrapped: $334,667 that had been budgeted for road improvements leading up to the facility; $178,500 for architectural and design services, which the city-parish said it can provide at no cost; and nearly $200,000 in program management and construction management fees, which the city-parish said it also can provide.
MARC’s program manager on its new $11 million headquarters building, Beard International, had helped Walker prepare the original budget and bid specifications for the tire shredder facility, and was expected to bid on the $200,000 program management and construction management contracts, which also had caused concern among Metro Council members.
Council member Matt Watson, who has been pushing for the tire shredder project, says he’s confident the matter is now being handled appropriately and the new revised budget request is reasonable.
“After all the good work we have done to lower the cost, this is too important a project to let this grant pass us by,” he says.
The Council meets Wednesday at 4 p.m. at downtown’s City Hall.