DALLAS — Voters in East Baton Rouge Parish, La., will go to the polls Nov. 14 to decide on a proposed $901 million bond package that would finance parish-wide infrastructure improvements and a nature-themed tourist attraction in downtown Baton Rouge.
The parish’s Metro Council voted Wednesday 9 to 3 to set the election on the plan by President-Mayor Melvin “Kip” Holden to support the 30-year revenue bonds with an additional 0.5% sales tax and an increase in the property tax rate of 9.9 mills.
The sales tax is expected to generate $41.5 million a year, with the higher property tax rate bringing in $30 million annually.
If voters approve, the taxes would be levied on Jan. 1 and extend for 30 years. The parish said the higher property tax rate would cost the owner of a $200,000 home approximately $120 a year.
The parish’s sales tax bonds are rated A2 by Moody’s Investors Service and A-plus by Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s.
The current proposal totals $900.98 million, up slightly from the original $887.5 million package proposed by Holden in July.
In July the council established the East Baton Rouge Parish Capital Improvements District No. 1 to issue the bonds. The original district did not include the suburbs of Central, Zachary, and Baker.
However, Holden later withdrew the plan for the special district. The proposal going to voters in November calls for bonds to be issued by the East Baton Rouge Parish Capital Improvements District, which includes the entire parish.
The new proposal does not include $19.8 million to replace six fire stations in Baton Rouge, and increases the proceeds allocated to drainage efforts to $178.3 million from the $145 million in the earlier plan. Holden said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also will contribute $137 million to increase the capacity of drainage canals in the parish.
Holden said the bond proceeds would help solve severe drainage problems that have not been addressed comprehensively since voters approved a capital improvement bond program dedicated to drainage projects in 1965.
“We can’t afford to wait much longer, because the drainage situation in particular is a time bomb,” he said.
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.
Holden said he expects voters to endorse the current plan.
“We’ll be going all over East Baton Rouge Parish, and letting people know exactly what we are trying to do,” he said. “As we look to the future we must have a common vision and a common goal that will bring us together to move forward.”
Holden’s proposal would also provide $225 million of proceeds to build an eight-acre educational and recreational venue on the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge.
Plans for the Alive! project include a large aquarium, rides, an amphitheater, and a Louisiana State University facility for research on coastal erosion and hurricane protection.
Alive! is expected to be operated by Audubon Nature Institute.
The bonds would also provide $135 million for a new parish prison, $92.5 million for a public safety complex, $72.4 million for improvements and expansions at the city’s downtown convention center, and $68.8 million for a parking garage adjacent to the center.