Bond money gets OK

$35M will be used to finance new parish facilities

Calcasieu Parish police jurors voted 10-1 Thursday to approve borrowing $35 million to pay for several badly needed capital projects, including new facilities for Family and Juvenile Court, the Coroner’s Office, Animal Services and Juvenile Justice.

The vote approved the financing of bonds through the Louisiana Local Government Environmental Facilities and Community Development Authority. The Police Jury in 2015 approved issuing bond money to pay for $60 million in capital projects. The $35 million is the first series of bond money.

Tammy Bufkin, parish finance director, said the bond money will be paid back over a 20-year period, with interest rates up to 6 percent. The interest rate, which won’t be known until next week, is likely to be closer to 3 or 4 percent, she said.

“We’re going to be able to repay the debt without going back to the people for an additional tax,” Bufkin said.

The low interest rate came about after Calcasieu Parish received an AA+ rating last week from Standard and Poor’s Financial Services LLC. Tax attorney and Bond Counsel Jay Delafield called the rating “stunning” and said it will save “several millions” of dollars in interest costs.

Bufkin said the remaining $25 million in bonds will likely be requested to be issued in 2020.

Several police jurors spoke of the facilities having reached the end of their life span.

“These projects are so badly needed,” said District 14 Police Juror Hal McMillin. “We have family court, where families are right on top of each other, and these folks are going through some tough times. We need to build that center as quickly as possible.”

Parish Administrator Bryan Beam said professionals who have examined the existing facilities reported them being “in dire need of upgrades.”

“We felt it was worth the debt in this case,” Beam said. “As far as the interest, that’s a price we can handle, and it’s a great value for the trade off.”

District 10 Police Juror Shalon Latour cast the lone “no” vote. He acknowledged the need for new facilities, but voiced concerns about borrowing money with interest. He said it will cost the parish $1.2 million in interest in the first year and tens of millions of dollars over time.

“We would not be very good stewards of our citizens’ money,” Latour said. “Voting on this is basically throwing money down the drain for your citizens, no matter where you live in the parish.”

Other police jurors disagreed, saying that borrowing the money now will help the parish save money over time.

“Debt is not a bad thing as long as it’s manageable,” said District 7 Police Juror Chris Landry. “Any good business has debt.”

District 15 Police Juror Les Farnum said the cost of paying interest on the bonds and starting work on the projects sooner would be nullified when compared to waiting 10 to 15 years and encountering higher costs for labor and materials.

Beam said the new Family and Juvenile Court will be the largest project, with the new building costing roughly $20 million to $25 million. The project also calls for demolishing the existing Magnolia parking garage and connecting the new facility to the existing judicial center.

The 50,000-square-foot Juvenile Justice facility is already under construction by Lake Arthur-based Trahan Construction at a cost of $20.5 million. The existing facility was built in 1968.

Dean Kelly, parish facility management director, said the bond money will also pay for maintenance work at Burton Coliseum Complex, such as replacing the air conditioning system, chillers and boilers.

Police Jurors Francis Andrepont, Sandra Treme, and Tony Guillory were absent.

Burton sign

Earlier, members of the Budget Committee recommended the parish’s proposed $244 million budget for 2019.

The proposed spending plan is 4.5 percent more than the $233.5 million in the current budget. Some of the increases come from operations and capital projects like roads, drainage and facilities.

Committee members also approved a request for $200,000 from the parish gambling fund’s economic development/parishwide needs allocation to pay for and install a new LED sign at Burton Coliseum Complex.

Jason Barnes, Burton complex director, said the existing sign, installed in the early 2000s, no longer works. The company whose software powered the sign went out of business in 2008, making repairs impossible.

“We need some parts and things that we can’t even get our hands on,” Barnes said.

Barnes said the project will eventually go out for bids.

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