Borrowing Plan Approved to Build Community College in Monroe, La.

Thu February 14, 2008 - Southeast Edition
Melinda DeSlatte - ASSOCIATED PRESS



BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) Despite concerns about the financing arrangement, a state money panel — backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration — agreed Jan. 22 to the $45 million construction of a new community college campus in Monroe.

The borrowing plan for the Delta Community College campus was approved without objection by the State Bond Commission.

That approval came after several members of the panel, including Jindal’s top budget crafter, Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis, said they didn’t like that the college construction skirted the traditional state construction process, called “capital outlay.”

“I think that’s a backward process,” said Secretary of State Jay Dardenne, a member of the Bond Commission, who complained about the financing plans but didn’t object to their approval.

“It puts us in a very awkward position,” Davis told Joe May, head of the state Community and Technical College System.

Davis said the state needs to reconsider financing projects outside of the capital outlay process, which prioritizes projects based on recommendations of both the governor and the Legislature. But she supported the community college construction project anyway.

Rep. Jim Fannin, a member of the Bond Commission and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said a new direction was needed for financing construction projects, but he pushed for approval of the college, which will be built in his area of the state.

“I hope we don’t get caught up today into wanting to start a new direction,” said Fannin, D-Jonesboro.

“It is a good time to start a new direction, after this one,” he said.

Similar community colleges were built with this type of borrowing outside the capital outlay process, including colleges in Bossier Parish and Baton Rouge, said Whit Kling, director of the Bond Commission.

Sen. John Alario, D-Westwego, said the northeast Louisiana area that houses the college has a large concentration of poor residents and needs more investments in the skills training that a community college can provide.

Rep. Karen Carter Peterson said she keeps hearing about the fresh start of a new administration. “You’re telling me it begins tomorrow, and I’m confused. I thought it began last week? Why are we making exceptions today?” said Peterson, D-New Orleans, who later didn’t object to approval of the funding.

Fannin replied that the project’s been in the works for a while and wasn’t a new project.

The borrowing costs cover the construction of an administrative building, learning resource center, classroom buildings and equipment and furniture. The state will pay off the bond debt over as many as 31 years with payments from the state general fund of as much as $3.1 million a year under the terms of the agreement. Construction is expected to take 18 months.

Davis’ office must work out an agreement between the community college system and the state before construction can begin.

The school, founded in 2001, has not had a permanent campus. It now operates from the campus of the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco had supported the building of a stand-alone campus, but it got bogged down in land disputes recently worked out, May said.

Jindal issued a statement praising the project and calling it an important step in the state’s work force training efforts.

“This approval of $45 million in bonds for Delta Community College’s new campus will work to cultivate even greater successes in student achievement so that graduates are trained and ready to enter rewarding, high-paying careers,” he said in the statement.