DALLAS - Voters in most parts of East Baton Rouge Parish, La., will go to the polls Nov. 14 to decide on an $887 million bond package that is similar to a $989 million proposal they narrowly rejected last November.
President-Mayor Melvin "Kip" Holden will provide details of the new proposal on Wednesday afternoon.
The Metropolitan Council, the legislative body for the combined parish-city government, is set to vote Wednesday on establishing a capital improvements district to issue the bonds.
The proposed East Baton Rouge Parish Capital Improvement District No. 1 would support the debt with a 0.5% increase in the existing 4.5% sales tax, and a 9.9 mill property tax increase that would be in place for 30 years or the life of the bonds.
In contrast to the failed 2008 bond bid, the proposed district excludes the Baton Rouge suburbs of Baker, Central, and Zachary. There are no projects to be financed in those cities, and the taxes would only be levied in Baton Rouge and the remaining unincorporated areas of the parish.
The parish's outstanding sales tax revenue bonds have underlying ratings of A2 from Moody's Investors Service and A-plus from Standard & Poor's and Fitch Ratings.
Attorney Richard Leibowitz of Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson LLP, the parish's bond counsel, said capital improvement districts are uncommon in Louisiana but not unheard of.
"Under our state law, some 15 of the 64 parishes have the capability of forming special capital improvement districts that can issue bonds," he said. "There are several of them. I would say it is not common, but neither is it rare."
Leibowitz said the proposed sales tax is expected to generate $39 million a year for debt support, with the increased property tax adding another $29 million a year.
Parish voters turned down the $989 million bond package in 2008 by a narrow margin, with 87,393 in favor and 90,464 opposed. Leibowitz said the new proposal is lower because some bridgework on the 2008 project list is being financed with the parish's federal stimulus funds.
Parish officials declined to provide specifics on Holden's newest proposal until the Wednesday news conference, but said it will be similar to the 2008 one. No new projects have been added.
Projects expected to be on the bond-financed list include a new parish prison, street improvements, and several developments along the Mississippi River in downtown Baton Rouge.
The largest project in the defeated 2008 proposal was a $248 million nature-themed tourist attraction operated by the Audubon Nature Institute. Others included a $145 million expansion of the convention center, $135 million for a new prison, and $46 million for traffic-light synchronization.
Todd Teepell, a Baton Rouge business, and others formed Progress Is Baton Rouge after the 2008 election. The group said it would campaign for the new bond proposal. He said the new, somewhat smaller package has a good chance to be approved.
"They have taken out the three smaller cities, and two of them voted overwhelmingly against the proposal last year," Teepell said, adding that the marketing effort for the new plan will be more focused than in 2008.
"There was a lot of bad information out there before the election, and there was no grassroots-type of organized support," he said. "Basically, the government officials communicated through the press."
Teepell said this year's effort will include more public meetings as well as one-on-one communications. "We are going to educate the public on the need for these type of economic projects in our downtown and what they will do for Baton Rouge," he said. "We want to encourage conversations about this effort."
Voters were focused on the presidential election in 2008 rather than the down-the-ballot bond proposal, Teepell said, and were further distracted by Hurricane Gustav in late October.
"This year, this will be about the only thing on the ballot," he said.