DALLAS — East Baton Rouge Parish’s proposed $900.8 million bond package will remain on the Nov. 14 ballot despite efforts by several members of the Metropolitan Council to postpone the election until 2010.
The council deadlocked, 6 to 6, Monday on a motion to overturn its 9-3 decision on Sept. 2 to hold the election in November on increasing taxes to support the 30-year bonds. The proposal to delay the elections until spring or fall 2010 required support of seven of the 12 councilors.
The bond proceeds would fund a number of infrastructure projects and economic development efforts in the Louisiana parish, including $178.3 million for drainage improvements and $141.2 million for expansions and additions to the convention center in downtown Baton Rouge.
Voters will be asked to approve an additional 0.5% sales tax and an increase in the property tax of 9.9 mills. The taxes would be levied for 30 years or until all the bonds mature.
Councilors seeking a delay said a vote on the bonds would not be appropriate because of unresolved issues about the state-owned site for the bond-financed $225 million “Alive” education and entertainment venue along the Mississippi River in downtown Baton Rouge.
Councilor Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois said he would not have favored a November election if questions about railroad liability concerns over tracks that cross the property had been made public by Mayor-President Melvin “Kip” Holden before the first vote. He was one of the three councilors who switched their votes to oppose the election next month.
Bourgeois also said he was not told during a meeting with parish officials that the $40 million needed to raise the elevation of the land — which is between the levee and the river and often floods — would not come from the state’s fiscal surplus.
Gov. Bobby Jindal said last week there is no available surplus money, but he would support an allocation of $40 million from the state construction budget if area legislators agree that the project is a top priority.
The liability issues should not hold up the Alive effort, he said, if voters approve the bonds.
“Let the voters decide, but if they decide they want to move forward with this, the state will certainly work with the railroad company to see if we can settle those legal issues,” Jindal said last week.
Holden said the economic boost provided by the Alive project would allow the debt to be retired in 18 years rather than 30.
After the council vote, Holden said the issue is now up to the voters.
“We will move forward to make our case on passing the whole bond package,” he said.
The Alive project would include an aquarium, scientific research facilities, and a thrill ride that would take visitors on a simulated flight from the source of the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. It would be owned by the parish, but operated by the Audubon Nature Institute.
Voters narrowly rejected a similar $989 million bond package in November 2008. Nearly 177,000 votes were cast, with the measure defeated by 3,071 votes.
The parish’s sales tax bonds have underlying ratings of A2 from Moody’s Investors Service, and A-plus from Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings.