BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome formally presented the 2018 budget to the metro council during a special session on Friday, November 3.
Broome met with small groups Thursday to discuss details of the budget, including funding for police and fire academies, increasing entry-level pay for police officers, and the replacement of police and fire vehicles.
Broome says this will be a standstill budget with only a 2.32 percent increase in the total budget. There's also a less than 1 percent increase in the general operating budget. "Our increase has been minimal," said Broome.
The city's overall budget is currently around $900 million and the mayor's team is choosing to focus more on ways to spend smarter while making law enforcement a priority. "We've tried to address that through efficiencies, recognizing that we have to provide a balanced budget," Broome added.
The mayor's plan includes setting aside funds for two new training academies for up to 35 recruits, as well as money to provide a bump for entry-level officers with the Baton Rouge Police Department. Currently, new entry-level officers start out making just under $33,000 a year.
"My staff is very concerned about that," said Broome.
The move caught Councilwoman Tara Wicker's eye. She and another council member have spent the past several months in public policy meetings and more money for officers is one of the recommendations community members presented.
"That was very exciting. When I saw that, my eyes lit up," said Wicker. "Our opportunity to be able to retain and recruit quality police officers based on the compensation that we had was just not there."
While murders in the Capital City have swelled to record-breaking levels in recent weeks, Wicker says the mayor's idea helps in more ways than one, including showing some effort to solve the crime issues and also helping to mend some of the tension that has seemingly existed between the mayor's office and BRPD.
"From what I've seen, this definitely becomes that olive branch that they've been able to reach out and say, 'Hey, we're going to work together and our common goal is the health, safety, and welfare of our citizens,'" she added.
Wicker says while mostly pleased, she's hoping there will still be room in the plan for more summer youth employment and a focus on eliminating area food deserts. While Wicker and her colleagues each likely have their own wish lists, the mayor is optimistic about her proposal as it now heads to a vote next month.
"I'm looking forward to working with the council members as we move forth," Broome added.
The mayor's office says revenue collection efforts will also be increased. These efforts have been complicated due to the effects of the August 2016 flood.