EBR Metro Council delays forming committee to address blight concerns

Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The East Baton Rouge Metro Council delayed a decision Tuesday night about whether to move forward with the creation of a new committee designed to tackle the blighted property issues in the city-parish.

The EBR Blight Study Committee would be tasked with formulating policy recommendations to present to the council to curb the issues, but the group was too split over whose responsibility it is to address those issues and decided to push the vote off for three weeks.

"We can't get away from blight," said Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis. "We've been dealing with blight and we probably will for a long time."

Collins-Lewis called the problem almost unavoidable and said the issues often stem from complicated titles for various properties.

"It's so many title issues and so many people tied up in the property, you could never clear it to do something with it, so those issues need to be addressed," she added.

Council members Tara Wicker and Matt Watson were supposed to lead the charge and pick other committee members from certain city organizations and departments to fill other committee roles. Watson says he's tired of letting the concerns go unsolved.

"The way things are going right now are moving us further away from a solution rather than towards it," said Watson.

More than anything, Watson said he wants action and added it's what the people deserve.

"I made promises to them that I was going to do stuff for them," he stated.

Councilwoman Chauna Banks fired back, saying she too has made promises, but believes blight falls on the mayor.

"We can have all the studies we want," said Banks. "I'm not going to write a check I can't cash because the mayor and her administration is responsible for blight, not the metro council."

Other members of the body, though, say it's not just up to one group to solve and believe a push for cleaner neighborhoods should be a joint effort between the executive and legislative branches of city government.

"We have to act so that the community as a whole can see and understand that we are all working together to try and get this done," said Wicker.

"To me, it's a joint effort and a joint responsibility," Collins-Lewis added.

The delay comes a month after the council voted to heavily increase fines for those in violation of contributing to the blight problem. Offenders already faced automatic fines of $125, $250, and $500 based on if the violator had previous offenses, but in October, the council gave blight court judges the ability to hand out $1,000, $3,000, and $5,000 fines for those caught in violation.

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