The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council on Wednesday overrode Mayor-President Kip Holden’s veto of a north Baton Rouge economic development district, but Holden said after the vote that the plan is too broad and warned of unintended consequences.
The 8-4 vote came after a lengthy debate about aligning multiple plans for north Baton Rouge, the political motives that went into the district’s creation and the confusion that the district already has stirred up. Some council members who voted for the district earlier this month, when it passed 9-0, jumped ship and sided with the mayor-president while others offered stronger support to the ordinance.
Trae Welch, who previously abstained from voting for the district, became the key eighth vote for the override. He said Holden’s veto “sent the wrong message to the north part of the parish” and joined ordinance sponsor John Delgado, Donna Collins-Lewis, Chauna Banks-Daniel, Erika Green, Tara Wicker, LaMont Cole and Ryan Heck in voting for the override.
“It is a seminal moment after years of neglect in north Baton Rouge,” Delgado said.
Chandler Loupe, Joel Boé, Buddy Amoroso and Scott Wilson sided with the mayor-president. Loupe, Boé and Amoroso said they agreed north Baton Rouge needed incentives for economic development but that Delgado’s plan had too many imperfections.
Loupe tried to rally his fellow council members to rewrite the ordinance and to marry the various plans politicians and community members have developed for north Baton Rouge. Holden said he was willing to meet with the council members to come up with a more specific plan to target economic development there.
Delgado’s broad district will give future developers some property tax breaks if they build north of Florida Boulevard and within city limits. Developers can apply with the Metro Council to pay the lower taxes on property before they improve it, and they could lock in the lower property tax rates for five years. The abatement could then be extended for another five years.
Holden and his Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel argued that the district was too large, and the economic development needs to be targeted to specific areas or projects. They also said the city-parish could lose out on too much property tax money from future projects while savvy developers take advantage of the tax breaks but do not add jobs.
Holden said after the meeting that the Metro Council members will regret going against the veto.
“They think they have a big victory tonight,” Holden said. “What they have out there is a big piecemeal plan.”
Holden said he will fight against individual projects trying to take advantage of the ordinance when they come before the Metro Council. He chided the council members’ behavior, saying they would be “patting each other on the back” for “steam rolling the mayor.”
Holden has issued three vetoes during his three terms as mayor-president, the other two being in 2011. The Metro Council overrode both of those as well.
Holden insisted council members would also eventually see his side of the argument against the economic development district when it brings unintended consequences.
“I’ll be here sitting on the sideline saying, ‘I told you so,’ ” Holden said.
A handful of concerned residents asked the Metro Council to override the veto during the meeting. While Daniel claimed the economic development district would give people “false hope,” others said it was a good enough first step.
The Rev. Reginald Pitcher said Holden is a friend of his and that he asked Holden to reconsider the veto.
“I know he can be stubborn, I know he can be bullheaded, I know he can be vindictive,” Pitcher said about the mayor-president.
Delgado’s aspirations to succeed Holden as mayor-president were referenced several times during the debate. Some questioned whether Delgado actually cared about development in north Baton Rouge or if he is more interested in scoring voters from there.
“I hope we are not using this to prostitute north Baton Rouge for our personal goals,” Collins-Lewis said.
Delgado said after the meeting that he frequently takes on unpopular issues, showing that he was not trying to pander to voters. He was an outspoken critic of the movement to create the city of St. George in the suburban southern part of the parish, and he was an advocate of the failed fairness ordinance that would have banned discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing and public accommodations.
Boé was one council member who originally voted for the district but later changed his mind.
Boé asked the #NBRNOW Blue Ribbon Commission to determine a top 10 and bottom 10 of the types of businesses that north Baton Rouge residents want most.
The Metro Council also gave its approval to the blue ribbon commission as it goes forward to draft strategies and implement plans to benefit north Baton Rouge.