Mayor-President Kip Holden cautioned a committee of law enforcement leaders on Monday that asking taxpayers to fund too many public safety projects could have a negative impact on the parish’s credit rating.
The Crime Fighting/Prevention Committee met Monday for the second time in its mission to identify construction projects and initiatives needed to help reduce crime in the parish.
Holden, who did not attend the first meeting, reminded law enforcement leaders Monday to consider other parish needs as the committee puts together a proposal for voters.
“We have to make sure that we don’t dig ourselves into a deeper financial hole,” he said after the meeting. “I have to look out for all of East Baton Rouge Parish.”
The committee of mostly law enforcement leaders crafted a list last month of more than $500 million in capital projects and operational expenses it said were necessary to reduce crime.
At Monday’s meeting, the committee informally agreed on five priorities for capital projects: a new parish prison, a new juvenile correctional facility, a truancy center, a misdemeanor jail and a shared public safety headquarters for the Sheriff’s Office and the police.
The estimated cost for those projects ranges from $300 to $350 million.
Holden said he was concerned that if the parish took on too much debt, credit rating agencies could reduce the parish’s credit rating, which is currently an AA.
The law enforcement committee’s current proposal is less than the mayor’s recent proposal for a $748 million bond issue. That proposal, which included $298 million for public safety projects, was defeated by the Metro Council.
Holden said Monday the city-parish will eventually need to address infrastructure problems plaguing the parish by issuing additional bonds.
The mayor said if the total amount of the bonds is too great, it could bode poorly with bond holders and credit agencies rating the parish.
“There is a point where it’s just too much debt,” said bond attorney Richard Leibowitz, who added the city-parish already has tremendous bond debt from the its sewer and road improvement programs.
“All of these things have to be balanced,” Leibowitz said.
While it’s difficult to predict how bond holders and credit agencies might react, Leibowitz said, it would be wise for the committee to stay close to the $298 million number used in the mayor’s proposal for public safety projects.
Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said the committee would be mindful of the parish’s other financing needs.
“This is not a wish list. This is tailored to what our actual needs are,” Gautreaux said. “But at the same time, we must be mindful that this is not the only issue that needs to be addressed in this parish.”
Councilman Trae Welch, chairman of the committee, said the costs are just estimates and could change dramatically.
“We might not necessarily need voters to pay for everything,” he added. “We’ll use resources that we have versus just asking for new money.”
Other items on the list — not included in the groups’ top priorities — include: $5 million in operational funds for the District Attorney’s office; $1.9 million for a new evidence room for police; and $5.5 million for 50 additional police officers to address anticipated attrition, among other items.
Leibowitz advised the group that the city-parish, district attorney and the sheriff can ask voters to approve property taxes to fund initiatives and operational costs.
The parish’s Capital Improvements District, which was created by the Legislature, is the only taxing authority that can ask for a sales tax increase, but its bonds can only be issued for the use of “bricks and mortar” projects,” Leibowitz said.
The committee has been working toward an April election deadline.