Baton Rouge, LA (FOX44) — The serious business of making a budget turned into funny business at Tuesday's Metro Council meeting after the council unanimously approved Mayor-President Kip Holden's 2013 budget.
Members called the meeting a great early Christmas present, but it took so much less time than in previous years, and they shared hugs, smiles, and jokes about the council members whose terms are about to expire.
They credit all the work they put in behind the scenes over the last month with the mayor's office.
"The administration did a really good job this time of making sure that they answered our questions ahead of time," said Councilwoman Tara Wicker.
"We've had members of the finance committee and other members who've gone through that budget back and forth, and they understood to ask the questions that needed to be asked," Holden said. "We were very candid and open with them, letting them know we plan to work together and make things a lot better than they've been before."
There was no debate during Tuesday's special council meeting, nor any opposition, in what appeared to be a calculated decision to end the term in a positive way.
"We really want to see Baton Rouge move forward," Wicker said. "I think setting the budget in place in a unanimous way makes that process happen even quicker."
"What you saw tonight was the public, what they've been saying publicly, not falling on deaf ears," agreed Holden.
When Holden presented his 511-page budget last month, some council members complained that they wouldn't have enough time to read it and amend it. He delivered his proposal on the last day allowed, giving council members just six weeks to study it.
"That's something that the elected officials can change," said outgoing Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker. "But that's the way the Plan of Government is, and until we change the Plan of Government, that's a problem."
The overall budget calls for $780 million in spending, an increase of 4.2 percent compared to 2012. But funding for the Baton Rouge Police Department will rise by more than seven percent, in part because of a new academy to create 30 more officers.
"Everybody was looking at crime and seeing if we...put more police officers on the street, make sure the District Attorney got more funds to prosecute people," Walker said. Crime prevention was the main part of his platform when he ran against Holden this year for mayor-president.
"So you can't argue with him doing the things you recommended that he do. So all of that helped a lot, and if he put his best foot forward, we should do the same."
"And I think that (Tuesday) was hopefully a signal of how things are going to happen in the future," Wicker said. "You know, we were hand-clapping, everyone was smiling, and it really is a new day in Baton Rouge."
Wicker added that there were a couple of small things in the budget the council wants to reconsider, but it will wait until February for the mayor to present a budget supplement.