Spendthrift Sheriff Sid Gautreaux Tuesday, Apr 27 2010 

Ten years have passed since a 3.73-mil property tax was implemented to support the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office.  Sheriff Sid Gautreaux says “If these funds are not renewed, then we will have to severly cut our services to the community, including the number of deputies we have patrolling the streets.” 

Gautreaux has taken an age old Democrat position:  Threaten the public with reduced services if taxes are not enacted or renewed.  It’s a tired argument.

Perhaps the issue is not the tax, but the spendthrift practices of the new Sheriff?

The EBRSO’s figures used to promote the tax renewal appear to be a bit out of kilter.  On the EBRSO website, a flyer promoting the election indicates that the millage generates $12.3 million for the EBR Sheriff’s Office, while The Advocate reports that the EBRSO’s take is $13.8 million from this millage.  That’s quite a gap.  Which figure is accurate?

While there is no doubt that we need to support law enforcement, taxpayers would be better served to receive consistent, accurate information when asked to renew a millage that has a $1.5 million chasm.

Furthermore, in reviewing the Louisiana State Audits of the EBR Sheriff Office, some interesting facts caught my attention.  It also changed my mind about the tax renewal.

Good news, bad news.

The good news is that assets exceed liabilities.  The current reserve is $26.2 million in total assets.

The bad news is that those assets are rapidly decreasing due to Sheriff Sid Gautreaux’s spendthrift practices.  Take a look at the annual budget figures indicating revenue and expenditures:

  • Before Sheriff Gautreaux took office as Sheriff:
    • The 2007 budget indicates annual net assets of $2.2 million, annual revenue of $61.3 million, and annual expenditures of $59.1 million. 
  • Gautreaux took the helm of the Sheriff’s Office in January, 2008:
    •  2008 budget figures indicate annual net assets of $3.3 million, annual revenue of $68.5 million, and annual expenditures of $65.2 million. 
    • This is an increase of $7.1 million in annual revenue, and an increase of $6.1 in annual spending.
    • In 2009, with Gautreaux in his second year in office, the budget indicates  he overspent to the tune of $1.9 million, with annual revenue of $72.6 million, and annual expenditures of $74.5 million. 
    • This is an increase of $4.2 million in annual revenue, and an increase in annual spending of $9.3 million.

What does this tell us? 

In two short years, Sheriff Sid Gautreaux is quickly spending the assets of the EBR Sheriff’s Office.  The revenue has increased by $11.3 million, while spending has increased by $15.4 million under his watch.

If Gautreaux continues to overspend, we are looking at a need for even more tax dollars to underwrite his spendthrift practices.  Do the math.  As we all know, if you continue to overspend, you will eventually deplete your savings.  No wonder Sheriff Gautreaux wants us to renew the tax millage. 

Although I have great respect for Tax Buster’s leader, Fred Dent, I can’t help but wonder if he took time to read the State Auditor’s reports on the Sheriff’s Office annual budget when he so readily said we should support law enforcement by voting yes to the tax renewal.

Again, I have to say NO to taxes – even though it is a renewal. 

It is important that we not endorse spendthrift practices of our tax dollars, and that we hold our elected officials accountable for balancing budgets and spending less than we take in — otherwise, we are headed down another slippery slope.

When Gautreaux ran for office, he clearly stated that he could increase services without raising taxes.  Was this just more political talk to get elected?  Why has there been such a dramatic increase in spending?  How long can we afford to spend more than we take in at the EBR Sheriff’s Office?

Mayor Kip Holden endorsed Gautreaux for Sheriff.  It all makes more sense now.  Spendthrift birds of a feather flock together.

Crime is on the increase in EBR Parish, and so is the EBRSO budget.  This speaks volumes.  Say NO to the tax renewal, and YES to spending less than we take in at the EBRSO.

Until next time,

Red Stick Republican

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More Pieces to the Puzzle Saturday, Apr 17 2010 

Update:  SB611 appears to have two additional amendments.  The first amendment filed by Boudrear calls for no state taxes to be allotted to the proposed economic development district, nor will the state be responsible for any financial supportThe second amendment filed by Delaneys changes the appointment process for the proposed economic development district; rather than the Mayor solely making appointments, other individuals will make some of the appointments including the DDD director, and Legislative representatives from the House and Senate will each make one appointment

 

 

There is nothing worse than trying to put a puzzle together with missing pieces.  More piece to the puzzle of the proposed Downtown Red Stick Economic Development District are being revealed. 

Developer Pete Clements is planning a mixed-use development in downtown Baton Rouge along the batture.  Mayor Kip Holden endorses Clements project.  Senator Yvonne Dorsey introduced legislation to create an economic development district for the project allowing TIF funds to finance the project.

There are no voters in the proposed district, therefore no vote required to implement bond issues.  A Louisiana Senate committee recommended the bill with one caveat — the TIF could only be allowed with the approval of the EBR Metro Council.

The fact that there are no voters living in the proposed district seemed ‘off’, until The Advocate revealed that gaming revenues from Hollywood Casino would be used in the TIF arrangement.  TIF’s allow for bond issues to fund private projects when taxes collected are higher than the amount previously collected.

Pieces of the puzzle were missing last year when Hollywood Casino and developer Pete Clements announced a joint venture to build a $12.5 million underpass. 

  • *No mention was made that Clements was a convicted felon, and Louisiana Gaming Laws require that casino’s not have business dealings with felons. 
  • *Mayor Kip Holden said that tax revenues from the casino would net $10.3 million in proceeds over a 10 year period.  The facts indicate that figure may be higher.
  • *An agreement was made between Mayor Holden and the two Red Stick Casinos, the Belle and Hollywood, to increase boarding fees.  Instead of $2.50 per patron, Hollywood agreed to pay 3.5% on the first $100 million, 4.5% on revenue above that amount, and 2% on revenue below that amount. 
  • The Advocate indicates Holden said, *the increase in boarding percentages would provide an additional $2.7 million in annual revenue.  
  • Former Councilman Wayne “Spider” Carter requested a portion of those funds be allotted to Baker, Zachary and Central, but former *CAO Walter Monsour said the designation of additional funds should be determined based on the EBRP’s budget process.  (So much for that!)
  • *Abstaining from the vote was former Councilman Pat Culbertson and  Councilman Bones Addision.  Former Councilmans Wayne Carter and Byron Sharper voted against the increase based on no designation of how funds would be used.  Other 2009 Metro Council voted yea, and the increase in boarding fees passed.

Now, even more of the pieces of the puzzle are coming together.  Some questions to ask:

  • Was the timing of the refusal to designate additional casino boarding fees by design?
  • Does it matter that River Park Development, owned by Pete Clements, made the *3rd largest contribution ($15,000) to Holden’s failed tax plan?
  • Is it important that the developer, Pete Clements, *declared bankruptcy in 1987 for his business of real estate holdings?
  • How about past projects such as the *Riverfront Dock and the Old  Courthouse Renovation, handled by Clements, were all significantly over budget?
  • Is it important that Clements was the developer of former Clerk of Court Mike Cannon’s satellite office on Coursey that *received criticism by former BRAC leader Bill Little for awarding work without a formal bid process?
  • Does it matter that the *failed Place Vendome fiasco resulted in one of Clement’s convictions for averting funds from the Feds?
  • Has the Louisiana State Police taken a position on a convicted felon entering into a business agreement to mix funds for the development of an underpass to Hollywood Casino?
  • Will the half-acre of wetlands on the edge of the property affect this development?
  • Does the option to receive land by expropriation or (Note: An amendment is currently in legislation to remove the word expropriation) gift in SB611 matter?
  • Is it possible there is a plan to bring back the Alive project under this mixed-use development project under the guise of expropriation or a gift to avert voters?

So many questions, so few answers.

At this week’s Senate Legislative Committee, Senator Dan Claitor almost redeemed himself by questioning the project.  Instead he claimed he felt the river was never given its due.  It didn’t matter that Consultant Mark Drennan claimed to have ‘overlooked’ the fact that casino revenue would play a factor.   

What the?  This project is not about giving the Mississippi River its due, it’s about a plan to divert city-parish and state proceeds from gaming to underwrite a developer’s private project through a TIF fund.

This is about already *declining city-parish tax revenues for East Baton Rouge Parish taking another plunge, all for the sake of a private developer’s project and a Mayor who is dead set to further develop the Riverfront with total disregard for the voters who have already spoken.

I fear there are even more pieces to the puzzle yet to be revealed.

Until next time,

Red Stick Republican

*All of the above facts were verified in the archives of The Advocate

A Tangled Mess? Wednesday, Apr 14 2010 

 

For a few minutes, I thought yesterday’s Baton Rouge Business Daily Report was sounding a bit like the Red Schtick.  I regrouped, and quickly came to my senses when I realized was I was reading was not a joke.  Nevertheless it was a shock to read what was happening. 

Normally, when you put together a tax increase in the form of a bond issue.  Law requires that the voters must decide if the plan and tax are acceptable.  Voters pull the lever, and the tax passes or fails. 

Or not? 

Last year the taxpayers of East Baton Rouge Parish defeated Mayor Kip Holden’s proposal to raise taxes in the form of a bond issue for riverfront development in downtown Red Stick.  The voter’s decided raising taxes was not acceptable in the current financial climate.  Also, another major downtown project was not pleasing to the voters.

There is another way.

By creating economic development districts with the ability to use TIF (tax increment financing) funds, a vote of the people is not required if there are no voters in that particular district.  

SB611 by Senator Yvonne Dorsey is proposing that an economic development district be created along the riverfront of downtown Baton Rouge.  The purpose is to build a river park multi-use development by Pete Clements for approximately $600 million.  It is located next to Hollywood Casino.  Clement’s  development would include a hotel, condominiums, retail and residential construction, office space, 6,000 parking spaces, and an amphitheatre.    

The Advocate also reports that developer Pete Clements declared bankruptcy in 1987, as well as committing tax evasion and lying to the FBI in 1994.  Clements withheld taxes, and purportedly hide money from the Feds.  As result, he was convicted and served over 3 years in a federal prison.  He was released in 1997. 

The Mayor stood by Clements as Holden announced the downtown project at Tuesday’s DDD meeting. 

The economic development district proposed by Dorsey, and endorsed by Holden, allows for the sale of bonds, and the collection of taxes from the district via TIF funds.  TIF funds are any taxes collected that are above and beyond taxes collected the previous year. 

Criticism of TIF funds come for many reasons.  Some feel that private developers reap the benefits of bonds sold along with the possibility that the developer is favored by politicians. 

The new district would create another Commission to make decisions over the economic development district.  A five-members board would be appointed by Mayor-President Kip Holden, and approved by the Metro Council of EBRP. 

Members will have full authority to enter into contracts, acquire land, oversee land development, hire employees, issue general obligation, revenue and special assessment bonds, certificates and notes and to levy taxes within and on behalf of the district.  These taxes will be voted on, but only by those within the district, disallowing other citizens of EBR Parish to vote.  Furthermore, if there are no voters in the economic development district, no election is required.

There is more to the story of developer Pete Clements and the land in question according to The Advocate archives.  In 1994 Clements was tied to Casino Rouge as a stockholder in Capitol Lake Properties, a company that leased land to the casino, now known as Hollywood Casino. 

Louisiana State Police demanded that the casino distance their self from Clements due to the fact that he was a convicted felon and it violated gaming regulations to do business with a felon.  Clements sold his stock, but Judge Frank Polozola reversed the sale and left the stock in Clements name while giving control of the corporation to the Internal Revenue to recover taxes not paid by Clements.

The Louisiana Secretary of State’s Corporate Database indicates that Capitol Lake Properties is owned by Astrid Clements, who resides at the same address as John “Pete” Clements.  The corporation indicates a report was filed by the corporation on February 27, 2010 which keeps it in good standing. 

This entire situation is way over my head; however, something doesn’t set right with me about this potential legislation.  There are too many questions based on the history revealed by The Advocate.  It seems a detailed investigation is called for regarding this plan. 

Is it good business for city-parish and state governments to create a way to raise funds via taxes without a vote of the people?  I find this a slippery slope.

There is no doubt this is a tangled mess.

Until next time,

Red Stick Republican

Budget Watch: EBR Parish Sunday, Apr 11 2010 

 

Interpreting the East Baton Rouge Parish city budget is challenging and time-consuming.  This 485 page read is no J. K. Rowling novel, and I think it is safe to say that few have read it in its entirety.

The most important part of the city parish budget is the organizational chart showing the citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish at the top.  As a resident and taxpayer, you are the one that the top three entities report to, which include:  the Mayor-President, the Metro Council and the Judicial Branch.  These are elected officials who are sworn in to office, and serve at your pleasure.

Next are the vision and mission statements, emphasis, goals, strategic initiatives, and budget process.  Then, we get into the real meat of the budget with detailed charts, graphs and financial reports indicating the sources of income and how dollars your tax dollars are spent. 

The general fund consists of 40% of the city parish budget.  This is signficant since 78.8% of that income depends upon taxes including sales and use tax, property taxes, gross receipts tax and other taxes including gaming proceeds.  The report indicates a $5 million reduction in business taxes, licenses and permits and interest rates.  This budget presentation comes from the same individuals who informed us the recession was not affecting the Red Stick.

Mayor-President Kip Holden joined hands with the Baton Rouge Area Chamber (BRAC) to the tune of $500,000 annually for economic development services for the Red Stick.  Each year the annual Canvas Trip is made by community leaders and politicians to cities that Holden and BRAC feel we should pattern ourselves after.  A puzzling addition to the budget is an additional $150,000 in business development support.  This is cause for concern since taxpayers were told that the contract with BRAC would replace any need for city-parish spending  or increase in services and manpower towards economic development.

When comparing the budget and planning process of the cities we have visited to the EBRP budget, some enlightening facts are revealed.  For instance, the city of Austin, hailed as the most desired city to pattern the Red Stick after indicates some progressive budgetary moves.

Austin indicates a major reduction in their annual budget for 2010 as well as a major change in 2009 indicating all city merit raises decreased from 4% to 2.5%.  There is a lesson to be learned here from a city we hold in high regard.

No salary increases for civil employees in 2010 and suspension of service incentive pay are also shown on Austin’s budget.  Additionally, cuts were made in their general fund including deferred contractual salary increases for police and EMS, eliminating vacant positions permanently, reducing overtime budgets, and adding gate fees for city-wide festivals.  Austin’s budget indicates a reserve of 11% compared to less than half of that reserve for the Red Stick.

More importantly is the involvement of Austin’s community in the budgetary process including transparency and collaboration.  Austin holds citizen focus groups, town halls, teen town halls, taxpayer surveys, a budget hotline and email program to make recommendations or question budgetary concerns. 

Additionally, Austin has implemented a Dollars & Sense employee input program including those who are not department heads or supervisors.  The EBRP budget indicates the only input that is allowed is the Mayor, the Chief Administrative Officer, Metro Council and department heads.  It begs the question.

Ultimately Austin’s goal is to be the “most livable city” in the country.  Nashville, seems to get it as well with beginning their entire process by referring to their metro city budget as The Citizens BudgetRefreshing.

Back at the ranch, EBRP’s budget has some major concerns for citizens to consider including the vast list of consultants which comprises 19.4% of expenditures.  It appears that consultant fees total $54 million.  Wow!

Mayor-President Kip Holden is also banking that our citizens will pay a visit to dump their hard-earned dollars at our two downtown casinos proven by the projected increase in revenue by an additional million dollars for the general fund.  I do not think you will find anyone who believes this will  improve our quality of life in the Red Stick.  Banking on the gaming addictions of our citizens is a bad move.

Increased spending is projected for a 10% increase in health care for city-parish employees, a $100,000 expenditure to ensure our local census is accurate, and a mirage of additional projects.  We have nearly $3 million allotted for EBRP vehicle purchases. 

We spend $340,000 on what is referred to as quality of life issues including fairs and festivals.  We also spend an additional $61,000 on hosting the bowling congress.  I wasn’t aware that improved our quality of life in EBRP.  In comparison, we give only $23,000 to the local Food Bank.

In 2009 we purchased a helicopter for the Baton Rouge Police Department vs. more boots on the ground.  I suppose that compares to Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, who criticized former Sheriff Greg Phares for the purchase of a boat, purchasing a second boat which rumor has it was named after Gautreaux’s wife.  I guess that indicates Gautreaux’s attack was nothing more than a political public relations campaign.

As I began, the 485-page budget is an interesting read, yet a handful of taxpayers will take the time to peruse it and understand the spending mentality of Mayor-President Kip Holden.  One recommendation is that every consultant contract be identified; some departments detail the companies involved, others provide no details.

Ultimately, we need to look hard at our spending.  Carl Redmond of The Advocate might be better served to study the budget and investigate the mirage of consultants and their ties to Mayor-President Kip Holden.

Until next time,

Red Stick Republican

Baton Rouge CityStats Reveals Inadequacies Wednesday, Apr 7 2010 

The Baton Rouge Area Foundation released their CityStats study for East Baton Rouge Parish earlier this week.  It’s an insightful look into the Red Stick’s Quality of Life, and worth reading.

CityStats provides information on facts such as:

  • Over a 5-year period, library readership has declined 14%, and library computer use declined 9.5% in a 2-year period.  Nevertheless, we are spending tens of millions to build new libraries.
  • Unemployment nearly doubled from 3.6% in 2007 to 6.1% in 2009, and is expected to increase.
  • Adjudicated properties increased by 54% in one year due for failure to pay property taxes.
  • Outward migration nearly doubled over the past five years, excluding Katrina which increased dramatically.
  • Patents dropped 14% over a 5-year period.
  • High school dropouts increased from 6.4% to 9.8% in four years.
  • High school graduates dropped 12.9% over a 4-year period.
  • Public and private school enrollment has experienced a steady decrease over a 4-year period.
  • A decline of 20% less qualified teachers over a 4-year period.
  • Toxic releases into the environment increased 32% over a 4-year period.
  • Our infant mortality rate is more than twice the national average.
  • Cases of sexually transmitted diseases remained the same or increased over a 5-year period.
  • An increase in commute time since 2004 was experienced while a decrease in airport use was experienced.
  • While bus ridership has increased, bus routes have decreased.
  • Violent crime has increased as compared to 4 years ago with the exception of Baker and Zachary. (See page 49 for full statistics.)
  • More than 1/4 of families in East Baton Rouge Parish experienced the inability to provide meals over the past year.
  • Child abuse has increased over the past year.

There are some positive factors, but frankly, they are outweighed by the tremendous volume of serious concerns over the quality of life issues for our parish.

Remind me again who the politicians and leaders are that kept telling us the Red Stick was not touched by the recession?

There is a huge difference between maintaining a healthy positive outlook and absolute denial.  Judgement begins in the actions of politicians and community leaders who have been handing out rose-colored glasses.

We need to get back to basics.  It begins in the Mayor-President’s office and in the seat of the Metro Council.  We have reached so deep into the pockets of taxpayers to create plans that are not improving the true Quality of Life for our citizens according to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s CityStats study.  

Our Mayor-President has had free rein to wrecklessly increase our city-parish budget during his 6-year tenure.  Take a look:

  • $563 million in 2005
  • $592 million in 2006
  • $621 million in 2007
  • $679 million in 2008
  • $694.9 million in 2009
  • $701.1 million in 2010

Do the math.  That’s a 40% increase to the tune of $138.1 million in City-Parish spending by Mayor-President Kip Holden in six years.

Enough said.

Until next time,

Red Stick Republican

Living the High Life Sunday, Apr 4 2010 

Nearly one year ago, I blogged about Mayor Kip Holden’s propensity to travel on the taxpayer’s dime.  This was based on the fact that in 1988 Holden ranked #2 as a Louisiana Legislator for one reason:  spending taxpayer monies on travel. 

Today, The Advocate has done an expose’ on Holden’s travel as Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish revealing excessive trips during his tenure.  Are we to be surprised?

One of the methods of determining an individual’s character is to observe how they spend other people’s money.  The goal is to be a good steward of the money.  A quick study of the EBR City Parish Budget indicates Holden does not hold fast to that mentality.

Part of the rub uncovered by Greg Garland, journalist for The Advocate, was Holden’s first class plane tickets.  (The taxpayer’s are footing the bill for domestic travel while campaign contributors or consultants are paying for foreign travel.) 

Another small annoyance is the fact that Holden was in violation of the Louisiana Ethics Laws by not providing detailed information on campaign expenditures for his China trip. 

When Garland questioned the Mayor on this issue, Holden quickly cut him off by admitting the Ethics Commission did ask him to file an amended return, but that it was not the business of the newspaper. 

Really?  That’s an interesting position for a Mayor.  Having made this statement, Holden is espousing that it is not the business of the taxpayers since the newspaper is charged with providing the facts for taxpayers. 

C. B. Forgotston often refers to the Louisiana Ethics Commission’s tendency to fail to enact the laws.  Forgotston refers to it as the “gold standard,” which in reality is a double standard.  In this case, there are no apparent violations or fees imposed according to the Louisiana Ethics Commission for Mayor-President Melvin “Kip” Holden. 

The $10,000 reimbursable expense that Holden did not detail in his campaign finance report is not that unusual for our Mayor.  Nor are expenses that are questionable campaign expenditures.  Just a few to mention include:

  • LSU football tickets?  $1,520
  • LSU parking fees?  $5,050
  • Southern football tickets? $760
  • Southern parking fees?  $806
  • Camelot membership dues?  $201$201, $201, (apparently this is a monthly expense during Holden’s campaigns)
  • Car repairs?  $500, $3134, $800 
  • There are also expenditures for flowers on virtually every report for $800 – $1,300 in each instance.  That’s a lot of flowers. 

The point of this exercise is to take a look at how Holden spends campaign contributions.  It’s just more proof of his disregard for other people’s money.  Campaign contributors freely give their money for election results, not for luxury items for a candidate.  You can attend football games, and walk around the tailgaters without making your contributors pay for you to enjoy the game.  Sadly, few contributors even read campaign finance reports.

The campaign finance law requires explanations for each campaign expenditure.  To not do so would definitely be equal to violation of the law as it exists, regardless of Holden’s brush off to Garland upon questioning. 

Claiming that you were reimbursed $10,000 is not sufficient.  There should be a detailed explanation of how each dollar was allotted.

As Forgotston so eloquently states, there is a desperate need for our elected leaders to be forthright, and for the laws to be enforced.  Can you imagine using your employer’s money and then when questioned, tell them it’s not their business?  How long would you remain employed?

There is a huge chasm between the private and public sector.  Elected officials should understand that if we run city and state government like a business, we would spend less time living the high life and more time meeting the needs of the people they serve.

We have a way to go down this long and winding road we call politics in East Baton Rouge Parish, and it begins in the Mayor’s office.  If we are to be the greatest city in America, we have to do better.

Until next time,

Red Stick Republican