DALLAS - Work would begin soon on the first levees along the Mississippi River in the river-bisected St. John the Baptist Parish in Louisiana if voters approve a package calling for $29.5 million of 20-year general obligation bonds for various projects.

Voters in the parish some 30 miles upriver from New Orleans will go to the polls on April 4 to decide on five separate bond proposals. In May 2008, parish residents rejected a one-part, $25 million bond program by 73 votes.

The last successful bond election in the parish was for $18 million in 2002.

Parish President Bill Hubbard said the bond-financed program, which is called the St. John Renewal Initiative, is important to the future of the parish.

"It's a smart and responsible plan that will invest real dollars where they are needed most," he said.

There are currently no hurricane levees along the river or Lake Pontchartrain, he said. Proceeds from the proposed bonds would provide the funding for the first phase of levee construction.

No increase in the parish's property tax rate of 29.5 mills would be required if the bonds are approved, according to Hubbard.

"The renewal of the property tax would help prepare this parish for the next 20 years," he said.

The parish's GO bonds are rated A3 by Moody's Investors Service and A-minus by Standard & Poor's.

The bond package will be presented to voters as five proposals to lessen the likelihood that an unpopular project would doom the entire effort, parish officials said.

The $9.7 million allocated to levees and drainage projects in the package would provide $1 million as the parish's contribution to the hurricane-protection levee along the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain.

Proceeds would also be dedicated to upgrades and repairs to canals and drainage basins on both sides of the river.

The parish would dedicate $8 million of bond proceeds to expansions and improvements to the water utility system, including expansion of a water treatment facility, upgrades at another, and maintenance on several water towers.

Hubbard said the water system was last expanded in 1988.

Other proposals in the bond package include $7 million for expanding and upgrading security at the courthouse, $2.8 million to build a parish gymnasium that would serve as an emergency relocation point, and $2 million in road improvements.

The current courthouse configuration requires defendants, victims, and witnesses to enter the facility through the same door. Providing separate entrances would enhance safety and security at the courthouse, officials said.

There are no incorporated cities or towns in the parish of some 45,000. The parish has an area of 239 square miles, much of which is wetlands or open water.

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