DALLAS — A $748 million capital improvement plan for East Baton Rouge Parish was rebuffed on Wednesday when the Metropolitan Council refused to consider a request by Mayor-President Melvin “Kip” Holden to set a November election date.
The proposal included $716 million of general obligation bonds supported by increases in the parish sales tax and property tax rate.
The measure authorizing the election was removed from the published agenda on a 9-to-3 vote at the beginning of the meeting with no discussion.
If it had been introduced, the election resolution would have been considered by council committees on Aug. 3 and then come before the full council for a vote on Aug. 10.
The failure to introduce the measure makes it unlikely that the council can approve the proposal in time to have a November election authorized by the Louisiana State Bond Commission at its session on Aug. 18.
Holden — who had similar but more expensive bond packages rejected by voters in 2008 and 2009 — said he was not giving up on a vote in 2011.
“We are not dead,” he declared.
“It’s almost unheard of that you would not let an item go through introduction and that you would delete it, especially an item of this magnitude,” Holden said. “But the bottom line is we’re going to continue to push forward.”
The plan would have asked voters to approve an overall increase of 0.75% in the sales tax rate and a property tax hike of 3.15 mills to support the $716 million of GOs being considered.
Under Holden’s proposal, a separate tax would be dedicated to $32 million of improvements at the Baton Rouge convention center that would not be financed with the proposed bond offering.
Councilor Scott Wilson, who introduced the motion to not consider the bond package, said it is not the right time to be seeking a tax increase.
“I just don’t think it’s good right now,” Wilson said. “I think, financially, people are struggling and I don’t think it’s a good time.”
Holden said his proposal focuses on funding the parish’s basic infrastructure needs.
The bonds would provide $195 million to upgrade drainage canals, $150 million to replace the parish prison, $102 million for a new public safety complex, and $80 million to replace 75 bridges.
“They’re virtually playing Russian roulette with the lives and safety of the people of Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish,” Holden said. “I would hope that they would rethink their positions and I hope the public would come out forward.”
“We’re not out of it and I can tell you this, they’ll be surprised,” he added. “I think the public outcry is going to be enormous.”
Wilson said the council has been pressing Holden for details on the bond program for six months.
“When you get something that you’ve done, and for the third time, and you don’t have it until the end of July to tell this council, I don’t think I’m playing Russian roulette,” he said.
Holden had been expected to unveil his latest proposal at a May 11 Metropolitan 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.
East Baton Rouge Parish’s $1.16 billion of outstanding debt carries ratings of Aa3 by Moody’s Investors Service, AA by Standard & Poor’s, and AA-plus by Fitch.