DALLAS — Voters in East Baton Rouge Parish, La., may have the opportunity in November to decide on a $748.5 million capital improvement plan that would include $716 million of bonds to finance projects in the city of Baton Rouge and throughout the parish.
Mayor-President Melvin “Kip” Holden outlined the proposal to the Metropolitan Council late last week. The council will consider the plan on Aug. 3, and has until Aug. 10 to set the bond election for Nov. 19.
If the measure is put onto the November ballot, it would mark the third time since 2008 that parish voters have been asked to increase taxes to support bonds for major capital efforts.
A $901 million request was rejected resoundingly in November 2009, with 48,851 opposed and 25,766 in favor. The proposed debt would have been supported by a 0.5% increase in the sales tax and a 9.9 mill property tax increase.
A $989 million bond proposal was defeated by only 3,000 votes from a total of 178,000 ballots cast in November 2008.
Unlike the two failed attempts, the latest proposal does not include a $225 million educational and entertainment venue along the Mississippi River in downtown Baton Rouge.
Holden is asking for an overall increase of 0.75% in the sales tax rate and a property tax increase of 3.15 mills to finance the projects and support the $716 million of bonds being considered.
If voters approve the tax hikes, the bonds would be issued by a parish-wide improvement district created in 2009.
The latest ballot proposal will be in three parts.
The largest category is for $366 million of debt for infrastructure projects, which would be supported by a 0.25% increase in the sales tax rate and a 0.75 mill property tax hike.
The infrastructure efforts include $195 million for 40 miles of drainage canal work, $79.5 million to replace 75 to 78 bridges throughout the parish, $54 million for replacement and synchronization of traffic lights, and $38 million for a downtown parking garage.
The three-part plan calls for $350 million of bonds for public safety projects. The debt would be supported by a 0.25% increase of the sales tax, and 2.15 mills of the property tax.
The bonds would finance a new $151 million parish prison complex, a $102 million public safety complex that would include headquarters for the sheriff’s office and police department, a $52 million project to upgrade the city hall building in downtown Baton Rouge, and a $45 million juvenile services facility.
The $32 million economic development portion of Holden’s request would not be financed with bond proceeds. The effort to expand the Baton Rouge River Center would be funded through a 0.25% increase in the sales tax rate and a 0.25 mill rise in the property tax rate.
East Baton Rouge Parish’s $1.16 billion of outstanding debt is rated Aa3 by Moody’s Investors Service, AA by Standard & Poor’s, and AA-plus by Fitch Ratings.
Holden had been expected to unveil his latest proposal at a May 11 council meeting, but that presentation was delayed while parish officials dealt with a flood along the Mississippi River that threatened the levees protecting Baton Rouge.