The East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission approved a conceptual map Thursday that envisions an expansive trail system connecting the capital to other cities for walkers, runners and bikers.
BREC has added trails throughout the city over the past several years, but the new map foresees parish trails connected to a statewide system. BREC is working on the Capital Area Pathways Project with the Center for Planning and Excellence and with Future Baton Rouge.
The map details a 58-mile proposed loop around Baton Rouge and shows trails extending past the city limits and headed toward St. Francisville, Ascension, Denham Springs and other outlying areas.
Bringing it to reality will be a challenge, though. BREC leaders expect it to take decades, and not all of the necessary funding sources have been identified yet.
BREC will spend $5 million over the next 10 years on the trails. The agency expects other organizations to pitch in and help fund and build trails, as well, and other cities would be responsible for helping to connect trails to Baton Rouge.
BREC sought input from those most likely to use the future trails when drawing them up. But the plans are not set in stone.
“It’ll change over time as we find out more information,” said BREC Assistant Superintendent Ted Jack.
The commissioners’ vote on the trails map was unanimous.
In other business Thursday, the commissioners approved a 4 percent increase in health insurance premiums for all BREC employees.
BREC, like many government agencies, is feeling the strain of health care costs and prescription drug costs that have increased by 30 to 40 percent — more than $1 million — over the past year. Employees will have to pay higher premiums and higher co-pays for prescription drugs in 2016.
Just last week, the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council refused to increase premiums for city-parish employees. Union leaders fought the proposed 8 percent hike, and the council could not round up enough votes to raise the premiums.
Metro Council members who voted against the increase argued it would offset the meager 2 percent pay raise workers finally had received this year after fighting for it for several years.
The scene was quite different at the BREC meeting Thursday, with no employees openly complaining, little discussion and a unanimous vote in favor of increasing the premiums.
BREC employees also received pay raises this year, but the amount differs depending on whether a compensation study found them to be underpaid or if they received a merit increase.
Both city-parish and BREC insurance advisers said they expect health care and drug costs to continue rising.
“We don’t really see that cost going down next year,” said Dale Ducote, of Health Plus Consulting, who advised BREC to increase the premiums.