Lower interest rates could save Parish $250K

Published 12:05 am Saturday, April 18, 2020

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(Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify the name of the employee handbook and include additional information about when council members received the handbook.)

LAPLACE — St. John the Baptist Parish could save an estimated $250,000 annually by taking advantage of lower interest rates to restructure bonds that were issued 10 years ago, President Jaclyn Hotard told the Parish Council during a video council meeting on Thursday.

Hotard asked the council to approve issuing of bonds not to exceed $11 million for the purpose of refinancing outstanding debt to the issuer, providing certain terms of the bonds and making an application to the State Bond Commission for approval.

The St. John the Baptist Sales Tax District, which is a special taxing district created and governed by the council, issued $15 million in Public Improvement Refunding Bonds in 2010 at an interest rate of 4 percent to 4.25 percent.

But with interest rates plunging, Hotard said reissuing the bonds should result in lower yields and significant savings to the parish. She added that since the debt service is paid exclusively from the one percent sales tax currently being levied, the savings could fund road improvements or to support the water or sewer systems.

Funding improvements in both of those areas have been a perplexing dilemma for the council in recent years. Hotard emphasized the refunding will not extend the final maturity of the bonds.

In other council news, members overrode the objection of council member Tammy Houston and approved suggested changes to the employee handbook. Hotard said that after a thorough review of the handbook, changes were made to update or further clarify existing policies.

Houston expressed several concerns, the first being that she wanted to see the original employee handbook to identify what changes were being proposed.

According to St. John Parish Administration, the employee handbook was sent to council members on March 20, almost one month before the April 16 meeting. The revision was publicly advertised for the March 24 meeting as a carry-over agenda item.

Hotard pointed out that the original handbook was emailed to the council members with the proposals highlighted in blue.

Houston replied that the “blue was too close” to the black print for her to be able to distinguish, so Hotard said in the future her staff would use a “bolder red or green.”

Houston also questioned the line of communication for an employee who might be encountering a difficult or uncomfortable situation in the workplace. The proposed changes called for the employee to first go to his or her supervisor followed by the human resources director and the chief administrative officer.

Rather than the CAO, however, Houston lobbied for the final step to be the chief administrative assistant, a suggestion to which Hotard agreed.

Finally, Houston questioned why no public meetings were held regarding the proposed changes, which is the standard when the employee handbook is changed. Hotard explained that proposed changes to the employee handbook must first go to the Civil Service Board and then to the council, and added the procedure used this year was similar to what was done in 2010.

The parish president also updated the council on the latest coronavirus numbers. As of April 16, 609 cases of COVID-19 were reported in the parish, with 47 deaths.

“This is an invisible enemy,” Hotard said. “Please continue to pray.”

– Submitted by Richard Meek, contributing writer