Metro Council advances tax measures supporting economic development zones

Metro Council advances tax measures supporting economic development zones

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The East Baton Rouge Metro Council advanced a series of tax proposals Wednesday night, all while attempting to walk the uneasy line of what to do after the flood.

"There's a balance that we're all trying to strike," said Councilwoman Tara Wicker.

The council voted in support of a two-percent tax on hotel rooms in the northern part of the city – including the hotels along Harding Blvd. That money will be used to help fund the Baton Rouge North Economic Development District and its efforts to reinvigorate that community.

"It's time for that neighborhood, those individuals who have invested their time with raising their families there to be a part of the prosperity shared by much of Baton Rouge and the other side of town has been able to benefit from," Wicker said during the meeting.

The measure passed, but not before an extensive debate over how long to implement the tax. Some members wanted it to sunset after a decade, at which point it could be renewed. Others did not want an end date at all.

"I just think going forever and ever and ever - that's the problem I've got, something that doesn't end," said Councilman Scott Wilson, who wanted to put a sunset provision on the tax.

"For us to put a 10-year time frame, it's going to take that amount of time to lay the foundation for building that community," Wicker said, hoping the tax would be applied indefinitely.

Those wanting no end date ultimately won out.

The council also approved a similar measure that would help fund both Visit Baton Rouge and the River Center. A two-percent occupancy tax would be applied to rooms across the parish, excluding those located in Baker, Central, Zachary, and the Baton Rouge North Economic Development District. The two entities would split the money generated. That tax also did not include a sunset provision.

A vote on a tax aimed at helping increase funding for infrastructure projects, however, was punted down the road.

Under the proposal, a five mills property tax would be used to help pay for and speed up projects in the parish's Green Light Program, including road improvements. The debate over stalling the measure again centered on whether it was a smart time to raise taxes when so many are suffering from flood damage.

"We don't know where we are with assessment values, we don't know where we are with Baton Rouge. I think a month ago, it might have been a good idea, but today I have some grave concerns about it," said Councilman Buddy Amoroso, who believes they should not take up a vote on that tax again for several years.

"The job of the city government is to protect the health, the safety, and welfare of its citizens, so we have to be able to make sure that Baton Rouge as a whole, Baton Rouge Parish, our community moves forward, even in light of the fact we're going through a really tough time," Wicker said.

The tax can be considered again at the next council meeting in two weeks.

The taxes that passed Wednesday still have several hurdles to overcome before they go on the books. They must be approved by the State Bond Commission. They also face a public vote during the December special election.

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