Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Mon, April 16, 2012

March home sales in B.R. best since '08

Home sales in the eight-parish region tracked by the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors were up 13.5% in March over 2011 figures—and were the best since 2008. A total of 646 homes were sold throughout the region in March, up from 569 last year (in 2008, there were 729 sales). A strong March rounded out an even stronger first quarter of the year, in which the 1,588 homes sold represented a 16.5% increase over the 1,363 homes sold during the opening quarter of 2011. It was also the best first quarter for sales since 2008. The most noticeable difference between 2012 and 2008 figures is the average sales price. In March, for example, the average was $184,376, down significantly from the $219,139 March average four years ago—but down less from last year's average of $193,198. East Baton Rouge Parish led the sales increase in March, with 362 homes sold, compared to 294 a year ago. Ascension Parish recorded 129 sales on the month, up from 108 last year. Livingston Parish saw a slight decrease in sales, at 98, down 12 from the 110 homes sold in March 2011. GBRAR lumps sales in West Baton Rouge, Iberville, East Feliciana, West Feliciana and Pointe Coupee parishes into the "other" category in its reports. Sales in those five parishes were unchanged on the month compared to last year, at 57. See a complete breakdown of the GBRAR's sales figures here.

Taylor returns to B.R. to continue contract negotiations, meetings

Bernard Taylor, who was chosen earlier this month by a unanimous vote of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board as the new district superintendent, returns to Baton Rouge today for a second week of meetings, school tours and contract negotiations. Taylor, who most recently headed the Grand Rapids, Mich., school district, spent much of last week making the rounds and meeting with local business and civic leaders, including Mayor-President Kip Holden and new BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight. He also had a ringside seat for a legislative committee hearing that approved the creation of a new breakaway school district for southeast Baton Rouge. Taylor tells Daily Report he is well-versed in the problems facing the EBR Parish School System—particularly some of the fiscal problems—and is ready to address them. "With the budget, it will be my job to ensure that we face the fiscal realities, focus on how we use the funds we have and guarantee transparency as we work to use our people and programs as efficiently as we can," Taylor says. He also says his first impression of the district is that locals don't recognize its many strengths. "We have educational value, and we need to demonstrate that value," he says. While Taylor is boning up on the district and preparing for his new position, he has yet to finalize his contract with the board. A board spokesperson says contract negotiations are going well but are still ongoing, and no start date has been finalized. —Stephanie Riegel

Baton Rougeans mobilize to rename Hornets the New Orleans Bounce

A growing group of basketball fans led by Baton Rouge entrepreneur Jared Loftus and his online sports apparel company, College District, have begun a push to rename the New Orleans Hornets after a distinct brand of hip-hop whose home is the Crescent City. Loftus says he can't take credit for coming up with the idea for the name—New Orleans Bounce—but he is leading the charge to see it adopted by new owner Tom Benson. In announcing his purchase of the team from the NBA on Friday, the New Orleans Saints owner said one of his first orders of business is to give the basketball team a new name reflecting its New Orleans home. The Hornets name came to New Orleans with the team, which was originally from Charlotte, N.C. Bounce music is a form of hip-hop characterized by Mardi Gras Indian-style call-and-response that gained national notoriety in the early 1990s. By Saturday afternoon, Loftus' team at College District had created a few potential logos and jersey designs for the New Orleans Bounce, as well as a Facebook page to gauge fan reaction. Check them out on the Facebook page here. A sign up page for updates on the Bounce renaming effort has also been set up here. "Who knows?" Loftus says when asked how far he thinks the idea can go. "This is one of those things that in this day and age could easily catch on and get in front of the right person—whether it's Benson himself or someone in his organization. You never know what's going to catch on and what isn't, but maybe it will become part of the conversation." —Steve Sanoski

Today's poll question: What do you think of the New Orleans Bounce as a replacement name for the Hornets NBA franchise?

Baton Rouge named among 'Top 25 Hardest Working Towns in America'

Baton Rouge is ranked No. 11 on a list of the "Top 25 Hardest Working Towns in America" by Parade magazine and Total Cereal. The magazine says its editorial research team arrived at the rankings by analyzing a host of criteria, including the total number of hours worked by the average person, unemployment rates, commute times, dual-income families and the likelihood of people giving up personal time for work. In the No. 1 spot is Columbia, Mo.; also filling the top five spots are Hartford, Conn.; Norfolk, Va.; Bloomington, Ind.; and Tuscaloosa, Ala. No Louisiana city other than Baton Rouge made the list. Cities ranked below Baton Rouge include Los Angeles (13), Milwaukee (20) and Dallas (25). The list was released Sunday in conjunction with Parade's annual "What People Earn" issue. See the complete list and more information on its editors' methodology at the Parade website here.

Big failings found in nursing homes' disaster plans

Nearly seven years after Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans exposed the vulnerability of nursing homes, serious shortcomings in disaster emergency plans persist at facilities in Louisiana and across the United States, government investigators say in a new report to be released today. Response plans, which are required by the government, often lack specific steps such as coordinating with local authorities, notifying relatives, and pinning name tags and medication lists to residents in an evacuation. Nationally, more than 3 million people spent at least some time in a nursing home during 2009, according to the latest available data. Nearly 40% of them, 1.2 million, were in the top 10 disaster-prone states, which include Louisiana. On the surface, things appeared to be in good shape. Ninety-two percent of the nation's 16,000 nursing homes met federal regulations for emergency planning, while 72% met the standards for emergency training. A different story emerged when inspectors showed up at 24 selected nursing homes and started pulling files and interviewing staff. The specific facilities in Louisiana, California, Minnesota, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas were not identified in the report. All had been affected by disasters; 14 had evacuated and the remainder sheltered in place. A detailed, well-rehearsed emergency plan is a basic requirement for disaster preparedness. But at one home, the emergency plan was in several boxes. At another one, it was on a legal pad. Of the 24 emergency plans, 23 did not describe how to handle a resident's illness or death during an evacuation. Read the full story by The Associated Press for more details from the report and recommendations here.

Russia gains access to North America in Exxon deal

Russian state oil firm Rosneft will gain access to North American energy sources and know-how for developing hard-to-produce reserves when it finalizes a joint venture with Exxon Mobil Corp. today, unnamed industry sources have told Reuters. Rosneft was offered a role in seven projects under a landmark deal last year with the biggest U.S. oil company, which could open up 36 billion barrels of oil in the Arctic offshore and help keep Russia's place as the world's top producer. Rosneft chose three Exxon projects to start with—in West Texas, the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and the Canadian province of Alberta—and will gain minority interests in them, the sources say. Further projects may eventually be pursued. Rosneft's focus in North America will be on so-called unconventional hydrocarbons—including resources such as shale oil and shale gas. It will now seek to deploy the advanced recovery methods used there at its own fields in Siberia. The joint venture deal will be formalized on Monday, the sources say. Finalizing it will mark a major turnaround for Exxon, which scaled back its presence in Russia after failing to take over the country's largest oil company Yukos, whose boss, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was arrested in 2003. Read the full story here for more details.

News roundup: Habitat will reopen B.R. ReStore on May 19 … Cheniere to raise up to $4 billion in debt for La. plant … Meats, cheese and other supermarket food prices rose 6.9% in first quarter

Refurbished ReStore: Steve Thomas, former host of PBS's This Old House and national spokesman for Habitat for Humanity, will join local officials to help reopen Habitat's ReStore at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on-site at 9:30 a.m., May 19. The ReStore, located at 4301 Airline Hwy., closed Sunday for a month-long renovation and redesign. A reception will follow the ribbon cutting with Thomas. Donations are still being taken while the store is under redevelopment, but must be arranged by phone at 335-1895.

A whole lot of spending money: Cheniere Energy Partners says it has engaged eight financial institutions to raise up to $4 billion to help finance the construction of a gas-liquefaction plant in Sabine Pass for export markets, Reuters reports. The financers include the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd.; Credit Agricole Corporate and Investment Bank; Credit Suisse Securities (USA); HSBC; J.P. Morgan Securities; Morgan Stanley; RBC Capital Markets; and SG Americas Securities. Private equity firm Blackstone Group said in February it would invest $2 billion in Cheniere Energy Partners to help fund the plant's construction.

Eating it: A basket of meats, cheese and other goodies from the grocery store cost 6.9% more in the first quarter of 2012 than it did a year earlier, according to a report from the American Farm Bureau Federation. As reported by The Los Angeles Times, a group of 16 items—including cheddar cheese, sirloin-tip roast, salad, orange juice and eggs—cost consumers $52.47 during the first three months of the year. During the same period last year, the price was $49.07. In the fourth quarter of 2011, it cost $49.23. Meat, flour, russet potatoes, apples and toasted oat cereal have all become pricier for consumers, according to the report, while just three items in the basket have gotten cheaper: whole milk, white bread and boneless chicken breasts.

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