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2021 voter guide for Baton Rouge: See CATS measures, local candidates, state amendments

Wayne Hsieh

East Baton Rouge Parish residents will vote for local officials and city-parish legislation on the Nov. 13 ballot in addition to four amendments to the state constitution, which are on the ballot statewide.

To learn more about the four state constitutional amendments, read WWNO/WRKF’s state voting guide for this election.

There are three local tax measures on the ballot in EBR Parish. Two concern funding the Capital Area Transportation System (CATS), and one would fund police security patrols in the Concord Estates Crime Prevention District, which includes a part of Baton Rouge’s Garden District.

Measures to renew funding for CATS

One of the CATS tax measures would fund public transportation in Baton Rouge for 10 years, and the other would do the same in Baker. Both are renewals of past tax measures originally passed in 2012. The tax rate would be the same in both cities at 10.6 mills.

According to the EBR Parish Assessor’s office, tax millage rates are based on a resident’s taxable property value and are paid annually. One mill is defined as one-tenth of 1% of the taxable property value, which comes out to $1 of taxes payable for every $1,000 of taxable property value.

For example, the 10.6 millage would cost a taxpayer $106 for property with an assessed value of $10,000.

CATS received between $18 million and $20 million annually from the measure in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

The public transportation service typically brings in about $2 million from rider fare collection, but the transit system 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 over $17 million in funding from the federal CARES Act last March.

Controversy over CATS’ performance, business practices

The property tax vote comes as CATS struggles to overcome staffing and repair parts shortages, accusations of unethical work practices and several other issues, The Advocate reports.

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

A whistleblower alleged last month that CATS mismanaged CARES Act funds. The former employee, Elijah Pipersberg, also claimed that CATS CEO Bill Deville passed out $50,000 contracts to his friends on several occasions and that CATS administrators abused the paid time off system.

“CATS’ board members are complicit or strangely ignorant of the Capital Area Transit System’s finances,” said Pipersberg in an email to public officials and local media outlets.

Deville denied the allegations in a statement dated Oct. 21.

“In recent days, CATS has been the subject of various and unsubstantiated allegations,” the statement read. “I am personally reviewing these claims with all seriousness because of my vow to be good stewards (sic) of taxpayer funds. My initial review is that these allegations are without merit.”

Deville said CATS will internally investigate and address the claims.

Leaders from the American Transit Union (ATU), which represents CATS’ bus drivers, have fought with Deville over alleged censorship of employees, mismanagement of public funds and hazardous working conditions since spring 2020. A federal lawsuit is still underway, in which Deville is accused of “union-busting” and punishing employees for protesting unsafe working conditions.

Anthony Garland, ATU’s international vice president, told The Advocate the union supports passing the millage, but does not support “...the mismanagement, wasteful spending, corrupt behavior and ineptitude of the CATS board to provide proper governance and oversight.”

Measure to fund neighborhood security patrols

Homeowners in Concord Estates, a neighborhood in Baton Rouge’s Garden District, will vote to renew an annual $69.50 parcel fee through 2025, which funds security patrols in the area.

Candidates running for public offices

Judge, Family Court Election Section 1, Division B

Erika Green (D)

Natalie Tellis Robertson (D)

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

Whitney Higginbotham Greene (NP)

Colette Greggs (D)

Terrel "TK" Kent (D)

Carson Marcantel (R)

Member of School Board District 4, Central Community

"Phil" Graham (R)

Kimberly "Kim" Powers (R)

Aubry is a reporter, producer and operations assistant in Baton Rouge.