BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The East Baton Rouge metro council voted 8-2 to levy a tax that will benefit the Council on Aging (COA). Voters approved this tax back in November of 2016.
The tax was for 2.25 mills. The council failed to adopt the tax back in mid-April, and several council members walked out of the meeting in anger, causing the vote to be delayed for 60 days.
"I've never seen anything like this at the city council level," said Rep. C. Denise Marcelle. "It should have never been so contentious." Marcelle, who also sits on the COA board, says it was a no-brainer and that she is surprised it took council members so long to approve the tax.
The metro council also expected to get an update from a Baton Rouge Police Department spokesman on the status of the officers involved in the shooting death of Alton Sterling, as well as an update about the 911 call from that night from EMS officials.
However, due to how much time was spent discussing issues related to the COA, the Sterling items were not addressed.
Some say they believe the council intentionally delayed those items.
"I'm very disappointed, but it was expected that they were going to draw the time out and that's why when I went to speak about the tax, I brought up the Alton Sterling situation and video," said Arthur "Silky Slim" Reed, a community activist.
While the metro council meeting was dominated by the COA vote, on what would have been Sterling's 38th birthday, family members gathered for a balloon release outside city hall. They say they do not want their loved one to be forgotten.
"It felt good to see those balloons go up in the air and in remembrance of Alton," said his aunt, Sandra Sterling. "Today was his birthday and it just felt good."
Sterling's aunt, Veda Washington, says she is truly happy about the victory for area seniors, but she won't give up fighting for justice for her nephew.
"I'm very excited for her. I'm going to go home and cry. If I keep talking to you I'm going to cry, but it's not hard," said Washington. "I'm happy for them because they deserve this and then some."
"Nothing else can hurt this family, so this family has weathered the storm and will continue to be on the front lines for justice for Alton," Reed added.
The current COA building on Florida Blvd. is in bad condition. Prior to the vote, heated words were exchanged between Rep. C. Denise Marcelle and EBR councilman, Dwight Hudson.
"You made mention that it could have been used for drainage project. I just want to remind you that the money was approved for LMI, which is low to moderate income, during Gustav and Ike, and it has to be spent, a plan has to be in place by July 15," said Marcelle.
"There is a way to do it, but I appreciate your comments," said Hudson.
"OK, I appreciate you, but I just want to warn the council about spending money that the federal government has allocated for one thing and using it for another," Marcelle replied.
"We made the decision to give this money to the Council on Aging and regardless to anything else, they need the building. We have invested a whole bunch of money in it already and of course this money could have been used for something else. We considered all of that when we voted on it. We decided to use it for that purpose and to do it differently now, it would not be a right thing to do," said EBR councilwoman, Donna Collins-Lewis.
The council also voted to levy a 2 percent tax on hotel/motel rentals in the North Baton Rouge Development District, as well as measures for the metro council to have more oversight over the COA, requiring them to submit quarterly financials, video recordings of their meetings, and more training for their staff.
The full meeting can be watched below.