The infrastructure set to be financed with East Baton Rouge Parish’s proposed $748 bond package is vital to public safety and security, Mayor-President Melvin “Kip” Holden said Monday in a briefing at the Baton Rouge Press Club.
Unlike two more expensive debt proposals that failed in 2008 and 2009, Holden said the projects in the latest three-part package focus on public safety, drainage efforts, and transportation infrastructure.
The revised plan is a response to voters who rejected the two prior proposals that included $225 million for an educational and entertainment park along the Mississippi River in downtown Baton Rouge.
“I have aligned these projects to move this bond issue forward,” Holden said.
The plan includes $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.
Holden said he would not debate the merits of the bond package when he asks the Metropolitan Council on Aug. 10 to set an election for Nov. 19. Several councilors said they oppose the request for higher taxes to support the bonds.
“This year I’m not going to beat my head against a wall,” Holden said. “I will not engage in a back-and-forth with the council. I will present to the people and hopefully they will see the critical need.” He rejected a suggestion by councilors that the vote be delayed until 2012.
“Now some of them are saying let’s wait until next year, but I don’t think they have the watch or the wisdom, or a member of the psychic hotline, to tell us when a bridge may collapse,” he said. “The sky’s not falling, but there is work that needs to be done.”
Voters would be asked 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 $732 million of bonds.
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.