POINTE A LA HACHE, LA., JAN. 2 -- Oil-rich Plaquemines Parish is thinking about going into debt for the first time in its history, marking the end of a modern-day oddity, a local government run entirely on cash.
Taxpayers will be asked on April 16 to approve a $21 million bond issue included in the 1988 capital improvement budget unanimously adopted Thursday by the parish council, equivalent to a county government in other states.
"I think it's going to get widespread support," parish President Luke Petrovich said. "I feel this government has gained the confidence of the people."
The last bond issue presented to parish voters, a $10 million proposal to build a new courthouse, was overwhelmingly defeated in 1986.
But there are important differences between then and now, Petrovich said. In 1986, the parish council was known for wild spending.
In addition, the depressed oil prices that have plagued other petroleum-rich states, particularly neighboring Texas, continue to cut into revenues in Plaquemines, which thrives on its inland and offshore oil development.
Finally, the biggest project targeted by the bond is popular -- $15 million devoted to levee work needed to meet federal flood insurance standards. The bond issue would bring in another $10 million in matching federal money to help raise the levees.
"Coastal erosion and flood protection know no boundaries," Councilman Sullivan Vullo said.
The bond issue could get the parish out from under a federal order to construct all new buildings in south Plaquemines on platforms at least 14 feet off the ground.
Another $2.5 million would go toward slowing coastal erosion in Plaquemines, which loses more of its marshland to the Gulf of Mexico than any other parish.
Even if the bond proposal passes, Plaquemines will continue to have one of the lowest tax rates in the country, Petrovich said.