Kenner bond bid going up for vote

Kenner Mayor Michael Yenni could learn the fate of his ambitious and expensive proposed remake of the city’s aesthetics Thursday after the Kenner City Council considers the proposal following a state review of the plan.

The council is scheduled to consider approving about $43 million in sales tax bonds Yenni wants to use the money to pay for a variety of beautification projects along some of Kenner’s major roads. He’s been pushing the plan for the past two months and has held public meetings to sell the proposal to the city’s residents and politicians. Kenner officials are seeking approval from the Louisiana State Bond Commission during the day on Thursday, and if successful, would ask for council authorization at the council’s Thursday night meeting.

Yenni said he’s not sure where the council stands on the debt plan or the proposed projects. Council members authorized Yenni to seek state approval, but several of them said they had not committed to the 10 projects Yenni has proposed. The majority of Yenni’s projects, which would cost about $29 million, would affect Loyola Drive and Williams Boulevard, and little work is planned for South Kenner. The mayor’s plan includes landscaping, streetscaping, new walkways and bicycle trails, according to plans presented by the city.

But Yenni said he proposed those particular projects because those are the ones the city needs and that residents want. The improvements were developed through resident surveys and council input, Yenni said. If Kenner is able to secure state or federal grants, other projects can be considered, but Yenni wants to move forward with what’s currently on the table.

“What I have posted is what I plan on doing,” Yenni said. “If I didn’t do what I presented, then I would be lying.”

Yenni’s debt proposal has received somewhat mixed reviews, with many residents calling it a smart move to reverse the city’s population decline, while other expressed concern about the level of debt the city is taking on. Yenni’s surrogates have argued that the rehabilitation is mandatory for Kenner to allow it to compete for new residents. The city’s population has been in a steady decline for years, and there are concerns that things will continue to get worse. Yenni has called that unacceptable for the city’s wellbeing.

“Then the city will have some serious problems,” the mayor said. “Something’s got to be done now.”

But in order to do the projects, Kenner would refinance existing bonds set to expire in five years and extend the debt for 15 years. Although the city’s annual debt payment wouldn’t increase, it would mean less flexibility for future projects. Kenner already borrowed about $60 million to do sewer improvements from the state. However, Yenni said that even with the new debt, the city’s per-capita debt ratio still would be extremely low.

When Yenni asked for the initial council approval, Councilmen Gregory Carroll and Joe Stagni asked for the council to delay that approval until they could discuss the plan with their constituents. The council refused, but Yenni has put on several town hall meetings to bring the plans to residents.

Yenni said he thinks the public is well aware of what he wants to do, and while he doesn’t know the council’s plans, he hopes they are ready to move forward. He said no council members have contacted him to discuss the plan further since he began making presentations.

“I expected it to go down 7-0 the last time,” said Yenni, noting that if the council approves the debt, he should have the funding in place by June. “I hope they pass it.”