WALKER — Mayor Bobby Font and former Alderman Rick Ramsey disagree on issues of finance, infrastructure and public safety.
Ramsey said Font refinanced city bonds to run to 2029, which is past the life of the sales tax that finances them.
Ramsey said he would pay off those bonds early and accused Font of “mortgaging the future of Walker to pay bills today.”
Font said he had little choice but to refinance the bonds, because of the financial situation left by the previous administration and the council on which Ramsey served.
“The old bonds were not meeting the debt requirement,” Font said. “You have to have $1.30” in income for each dollar indebted, and the city wasn’t even close.
Font said his choices were to refinance or raise sewer-user fees by $187 a year per home.
By refinancing he got the city a better interest rate and freed $900,000 to upgrade the sewer plant and get it out of trouble with state regulators.
Font said concerns about the bonds and the sales tax aren’t valid, because the new bonds are secured by the city’s utility fund, which is profitable.
He concedes refinancing meant the payoff period of the bonds had to be lengthened.
You can’t refinance for a long period without costing the city additional money, Ramsey said.
On the issue of public safety, Ramsey complained that under Font the city has not added a new police officer in three years while Walker has grown.
He said the city also has lost experienced officers and needs to use better methods to retain the officers it has.
“That’s something that is easy to say and much more difficult to do,” Font said. “We are a small community, and we cannot pay what larger cities pay.”
The city can’t give officers the $1,000-a-month raise needed to keep them, he said.
“We have plans to add people to the Police Department in the future,” Font said.
Ramsey said drainage is getting “progressively worse,” and that Interstate 12 becomes a dam causing problems north of the interstate. Those problems should be addressed as I-12 is widened, he said.
“Someone should be working with the contractors to exchange some of our box culverts designed to meet the needs of Walker 20 years ago,” Ramsey said.
Font said he has worked with the state on the drainage issue and that the culverts beneath I-12 will be replaced by larger ones when I-12 is widened.
He said the master plan provides for a retention lake that could double as a recreation area north of the interstate.
Ramsey said the Master Plan put together under Font doesn’t address a lot of the city’s important issues.
The city needs to plan to add a water tower and build a new sewage treatment plant, because those things take time to build, Ramsey said.
Everything was in place to build a second water tower when he left office four years ago, Ramsey said.
“There was no money set aside, and no engineering,” the mayor said. “We now have plans to build a water tower” and add a well south of I-12.
The sewer system is running at only half capacity, but there are plans for adding to that capacity to accommodate future needs, Font said.
Font said his infrastructure plans for the next four years include a four-lane overpass on Walker South at I-12 and adding turning lanes and intersection improvements on a number of city streets.
Font took office in January 2009 after retiring from 32 years in law enforcement
He serves as district vice president of the Louisiana Municipal Association, board member for the Louisiana Municipal Gas Authority and member of the Technical Advisory Committee of the Baton Rouge Urbanized Area Metropolitan Planning Committee.
Ramsey said he feels voters should have a choice. He said he decided to run when no one else stepped forward.
“Once I made the commitment, it became more of a passion,” Ramsey said.
He said he feels the city needs to pay its bills with its revenue and not incur debt without something important to show for it.
Ramsey, 59, is a Republican who has been a resident of Walker since 1996. He served as alderman from 2001-2008.
Ramsey is retired from LSU, where he managed the university’s farm and served as assistant director of the School of Veterinary Medicine. He served as the higher education representative and co-chairman of the Advisory Board of the Office of Group Benefits. He also served as president of the Staff Senate for LSU and as co-chairman of Governor Mike Foster’s committee for group insurance reform.
The election is Nov. 6.