Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Mon, July 01, 2013

Funds withheld from CATS as court ruling plays out

While the First Circuit Court of Appeals continues to deliberate whether to allow a lawsuit challenging the 10.6-mill CATS tax to proceed, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's office is withholding from the public transit agency some $484,118 collected between January and April from taxpayers who formally protested the tax. Nearly 1,600 residents of the specially drawn CATS taxing district—about 1% of the district's total—sent formal letters of protest to the sheriff's office in late December, requesting their CATS millages be placed in escrow pending the outcome of the lawsuit, which was filed one year ago by Cajun Industries executive Milton Graugnard. The suit challenges the constitutionality of the tax, which was passed in April 2012 in Baton Rouge and Baker, based on the way the district was drawn. The suit has been on hold since late last fall, but a ruling from the First Circuit was expected to come in mid-summer. Octave Anthame, tax director for the sheriff's office, says CATS collected a total of $16 million from taxpayers last year. The money held in escrow represents about 3% of that total. CATS officials did not return a call seeking comment. —Stephanie Riegel

Group calls for tweaks to teacher accountability

Stand for Children Louisiana, which has backed the state's teacher evaluation system that bases half of a teacher's rating on student test results, says the system should be adjusted to reflect the fact that the tests will be getting harder next year. "As you shift the standards, you also have to shift the assessments," says Carrie Monica, a spokeswoman for the group. "In Louisiana, it is almost inevitable for us to see a drop in student scores on those tests." She says officials should create predictions about how much the average student scores might drop, then adjust what's known as the "value-added model" so teachers aren't being unfairly penalized for the decline. Kentucky was able to project how much scores might fall using ACT scores, she says. "We never want teachers to not be held accountable," she says. "What you can do is make some adjustments that take into account that this is a higher standard." This year, the Legislature considered a bill that would have delayed penalties for "ineffective" teachers for one year. Stand for Children opposed that bill, which passed the House unanimously but died in a Senate committee. —David Jacobs

The Rum House plans Baton Rouge location

New Orleans-based Caribbean eatery The Rum House is planning a Baton Rouge location on a half-acre site on Perkins Road, in front of the Perkins Palms mixed-use development between Essen Lane and Kenilworth Parkway. "They've already broken ground and we've been told by the contractor [Lanco Construction] that they can get this done in about 20 weeks, and that they're shooting for an opening sometime this fall," says Alex Knight of Donnie Jarreau Real Estate, who brokered the deal with Colin Holmes of SRSA Commercial Real Estate. Donnie Jarreau and Kent Walker are developing the property. The Baton Rouge location will include about 4,000-square-feet and have a West Indies flavor, says Knight, with storm shutters, exposed ceiling and garage doors opening to a large patio. Kelly Ponder, Michael Buchert and Terri Savoie own and operate the The Rum House on Magazine Street in New Orleans, and at least two of them have deep local ties. Ponder and Buchert are both originally from Baton Rouge and have long wanted to open a location here. "Ever since our New Orleans location settled in, Baton Rouge has always been on the radar," says Ponder. "We've always wanted to open up a restaurant in our hometown and this location was perfect." —Steve Sanoski

Jimmy John's to open fourth B.R. location

Jimmy John's is planning to build an 1,800-square-foot restaurant on West Lee Drive between Burbank and Nicholson drives, next to Caliente Mexican Craving. Alex Knight with Donnie Jarreau Real Estate, who represented the Champaign, Ill.-based sandwich chain in the deal for the land, says the restaurant is expected to open in early 2014. It will be Jimmy John's fourth Baton Rouge location. Local franchisee Kyle Wilkinson says the location will help Jimmy John's better serve the LSU area. "The LSU students and community have been a major part of our business ever since we opened our first location on Perkins Road," he says. "There has been a lot of demand for the Brightside area, especially in Riverbend subdivision, and we look forward to answering those demands." Phong Le of Le Architects is designing the new restaurant, which will feature a drive thru and patio. Construction is to be completed in the next six to eight months.

Richard's Cajun Foods sold to California investment firm

San Francisco Bay Area private investment firm Altamont Capital Partners announced today its acquisition of Richard's Cajun Foods for an undisclosed sum. Chicago-based Atlantic Premium Brands had owned Richard's since 1996. Under the acquisition announced today, Atlantic Premium will also sell Blue Ribbon—a Texas-based maker of bacon and sausage—to Altamont. The deal includes the Richard's factory in Church Point, La., and another factory in New Braunfels, Texas. Together, Richard's and Blue Ribbon will form the basis of Tall Tree Foods Holdings Inc., a newly formed holding company led by Altamont's operating partner, Tim Bruer, who was previously an executive for several specialty food companies, including Nonni's Food Co. and Nestle's Culinary Products Division. "These are two strong regional brands with the potential for growth in both their current markets and beyond," says Bruer in a prepared statement. Richard's was founded in 1981.

'Business Report': How John Alario became one of the state's most powerful and popular legislators

When lawmakers were scrambling to negotiate a budget deal in the final days of the 2013 legislative session, the House leadership took the unusual step of appointing six members from its side—instead of the customary three—to the conference committee of representatives and senators that would hammer out the details of the state's $25 billion spending plan. That way, the so-called fiscal hawks would be assured a strong voice in whatever compromise emerged. Rather than appointing six senators to the committee from the upper chamber, however, Senate President John Alario handled the negotiations himself—in his office—with a handful of his most trusted committee chairmen, who met individually with the six House members to discuss the various areas of the budget with which they were most familiar. In the end, a compromise emerged that satisfied, marginally, at least, all the factions in the Legislature. "He came in with his whole team so he could match the wits of the House with his own expertise," says political columnist John Maginnis. "I just thought it was very deft the way he handled it … deft but not confrontational." The story is vintage Alario, a classic example of the MO of one of the most powerful and effective legislators in a Legislature that has had no shortage of colorful, strong-willed and politically astute members over the decades. Read the full profile of Alario by Stephanie Riegel in Business Report here.

'Business Report' planner: Workshop focuses on starting a small business … Wester guest speaker at BBB luncheon … Government contracting assistance available

Tuesday — The Louisiana Small Business Development Center hosts a workshop on starting and financing a small business from 10 a.m. to noon at the Louisiana Technology Park, 7117 Florida Blvd. Topics of discussion will include writing a business plan, sources of funds for startup and expansion, small business resources, and required licenses. The workshop is free. Register here.

July 9 — BBB hosts a business-to-business luncheon at the Oak Lodge Reception and Conference Center, 2834 S. Sherwood Forest Blvd., Ste. E-1. Scott Wester, Our Lady of The Lake Regional Medical Center CEO/president, will be guest speaker. Registration begins at 11 a.m., with the program to be from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Cost is $18 for BBB members and $25 for guests. More details can be found here.

July 10 — Small business executives interested in competing for government contracts can attend a workshop from 10 a.m. to noon at the Louisiana Technology Park, 7117 Florida Blvd. The event is free. Get the full details and register here.

For the full list of upcoming events, click here.

News roundup: Sites of deadly La. plant explosions remain closed … Registration near capacity for Course Choice pilot … Baton Rouge ranks 47th in latest Brookings quarterly report

Still shuttered: The sites of two deadly chemical plant explosions in Ascension Parish remain closed, and officials say it could be months before federal investigators determine the causes of the fatal blasts that killed three workers and sent nearly 100 others to area hospitals last month. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has sent teams to Williams Olefins in Geismar and CF Industries in Donaldsonville to look into the explosions.

Filling up: The state education department says the Course Choice pilot program is nearing capacity enrollment, with almost 1,500 students, families and counselors registered for courses during the upcoming school year. With six weeks remaining before registration closes and the school year begins, about one quarter of the funding needed for the program has yet to be found. The education department and BESE have approved $2 million in funding thus far for the program, which you can learn more about here.

Somewhere in the middle: The Baton Rouge metro area ranks No. 47 among the nation's top 100 metros for its performance during the economic recovery in the latest quarterly MetroMonitor report, released today by the Brookings Institution. Baton Rouge slid in the first quarter from a No. 35 ranking during the final quarter of last year. The rankings are based on employment growth, unemployment, home prices and gross domestic product. New Orleans is ranked No. 2 in the new report, the full version of which you can see here.

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