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CATS measure approved in Baton Rouge, Baker; see more area election results

capital area transit system baton rouge.jpg
Capital Area Transit System in Baton Rouge

East Baton Rouge Parish voters passed a tax renewal that brought the Capital Area Transportation System between $18 million and $20 million annually from 2018 to 2020 by 59%, according to the Secretary of State's Office.

The tax renewal, a 10.6-mill tax on property owners in Baton Rouge, also passed in Baker by 68%. It will cost taxpayers $106 for property with an assessed value of $10,000.

The bill’s passage comes as the transit system’s leaders are accused of corruption, mismanagement of public funds and unethical management, including failure to provide bus drivers with protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The public transportation service typically brings in about $2 million from rider fare collection, but it waived those collections between April 2020 and May 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It lost about $1.5 million in fare revenue in 2020 compared to the previous two years, but CATS ended 2020 with a net profit thanks to more than $17 million in funding from the federal CARES Act last March.

The transit system is struggling to recruit and retain drivers, and has had difficulty sourcing spare parts for repairs since May, the Advocate reported. An investigation by the newspaper discovered that more than a third of CATS’ 61-bus fleet was disabled in a late July heat wave. Some of the system’s new electric buses developed mechanical issues soon after their deployment.

The most recent data from CATS show a spike in trip cancellations and late arrivals. More than 7% of trips were canceled in August and September, bringing CATS’ total trip cancellations to more than 10,000 since March 2021. CATS reported that its buses’ on-time performance fell to about 65% this August, well below its goal of 80%.

The American Transit Union, which represents CATS bus drivers, filed an ongoing federal lawsuit against CATS CEO Bill Deville in January over alleged union busting and censorship of drivers who protested their working conditions.

The lawsuit alleges that Deville and other management staff used an investigation into the dissemination of an employee’s sex tape as a smokescreen to cover up an attempt to dismantle the local union chapter. Four local union leaders were fired following the investigation.

Despite the messy lawsuit, CATS management and ATU agreed in supporting the tax renewal’s passage in this election.

“We support the millage, but we don’t support the mismanagement, wasteful spending, corrupt behavior and ineptitude of the CATS board to provide proper governance and oversight," ATU International Vice President Anthony Garland told the Advocate last month.

In October, a whistleblower claimed that Deville passed out several contracts to his friends valued at $50,000 a piece in violation of CATS policies. Deville denied these allegations in a statement and said CATS will internally investigate other claims of wrongdoing.

Three races for public office were also on the ballot in East Baton Rouge Parish. Here are the winners:

Judge, Family Court Election Section 1, Division B

Erika Green (D): 65%

Natalie Tellis Robertson (D): 35%

City Judge City Court, ES 2A, City of Baton Rouge

Whitney Higginbotham Greene (NP): 22%

Terrel "TK" Kent (D): 34%

Carson Marcantel (R): 44%

Member of School Board District 4, Central Community

"Phil" Graham (R): 38%

Kimberly "Kim" Powers (R): 62%