GONZALES — Ascension Parish is planning to refinance $4.1 million in debt that the parish started paying off nearly four years ago when Ascension took over a then-financially troubled west bank water district.
The 2007 debt was part of a combined $5.9 million in financing the Ascension Consolidated Utilities District No. 1 used to build its system of water towers and lines.
Jim Ryan, parish financial adviser, told the Parish Council recently that the rate of return on the 10-year Treasury note was, he believed, “the lowest it’s been ever in my lifetime, so rates are really, really good right now.”
The yield for the 10-year note is the benchmark for interest rates in the U.S.
Malcolm Dugas, parish bond attorney, told the Council Utilities Committee last month that the refinancing to lower interest rates would save the parish an estimated $450,000 over the life of the bonds, which last until 2032.
Parish government took over operations of the water district, including the payment of its debts, near the end of 2012. The district wasn’t generating enough revenue and was in technical default on its loans, parish and district audits say. Though the district had been under parish government before the takeover, it was run as an independent financial unit.
Created in 2000, the district used grants and nearly $5.9 million in low-interest government water revenue bonds to build the infrastructure to supply Modeste, Brusly-McCall and other areas outside Donaldsonville where problematic water wells stained clothes and tubs.
Peoples Water had refused to serve those customers, considering the infrastructure costs prohibitive.
Residents in the district pay a 10-mill property tax and user fees, but the district has about 500 fewer customers than the 1,200 originally projected as part of the latest expansion finished in 2011.
Since the takeover, the parish annually subsidizes the district and, by agreement, pays its debts.
Parish officials had viewed the purchase of Peoples Water in Donaldsonville as a way to improve the district’s finances, as well as improve water quality, but that sale has been on hold recently as the company works through water quality concerns with the state Department of Health.
The refinancing now being considered is for $4.46 million in water utility revenue bonds issued in 2007 for the system expansion that added two new water towers and new water lines.
Lester Kenyon, parish spokesman, said Friday that the bond refunding remains in progress.
The Parish Council approved the refinancing June 16, and the water district’s board backed it June 20, parish officials said, one day before a deadline to submit the refinancing plan to the Louisiana State Bond Commission.
The commission meets July 21.