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Windfall not only thing needed to right Bossier City

This summer we’ve seen more uncomfortable examples highlighting the poor choices Bossier City elected officials have made in recent years – and perhaps a rare second chance at redemption in the offing.

The city’s elected officials must have been the only ones surprised when the sales tax take from the Louisiana Boardwalk has run below expectations because, for over a decade, its mayoral administrations and city councils have clung to the absurd notion that pumping citizens’ dollars into venture capital opportunities is how to bring about economic growth. “Build it and they will come” has been the “Field of Dreams” motto that, in its two high profile instances, cost the city in past dollars $77.5 million.

Much of that went into what today is known as the CenturyTel Center. It was supposed to set off an economic development boon in southern Bossier City (where it was widely protested by those residents). A decade on exactly two businesses (one since closed) and no residential developments have popped up near it and it regularly loses the city money (but its parking lots provide a great place for public safety personnel to practice their driving skills).

The rest was poured, literally, into a parking garage at the Boardwalk for a private developer who easily could have built this with its own resources (and $15 million more was spent on other infrastructure elements for the Boardwalk, but I’ve been giving the city the benefit of the doubt on the necessity of its paying for this on that). Doing the math, making very generous assumptions that the Boardwalk because of the garage is the only Bossier City retailer adding new business and not cannibalizing others (evidence of which rings very hollow) and comparing changes in sales tax take citywide over the past several years, the Boardwalk is hardly increasing city sales tax revenues past the rate of inflation. In other words, it might take a century to “pay off” the garage “investment.”

These follies really hit home considering the city just set out to borrow $100 million for various projects, $66 million of which have been on the drawing board in the city’s long-term capital budgeting plans. Assuming a generously-low 5 percent interest rate and 30 year life, the total cost of that $66 million – which the citizens’ money blown by the city on the arena and garage would more than have covered – would be about $127.5 million.

Just think of the possibilities frittered away by Bossier City politicians. These projects could have been finished quicker, maybe even by now, paid in cash, saving $61.5 million – plus having available the excess and years of interest accumulated as it all grew waiting for the right moment, and freeing future revenues from where all the money came from originally blown on these baubles, gaming. Just imagine the tax-cutting and fee reduction that the city could have accomplished, making Bossier City a progressive, business-friendly city that would have set off an economic expansion that permanently could have eliminated its dependence of economically-ailing Shreveport and the federal government.

Yet, believe it or not, despite these mistakes, Bossier City may be getting an incredible second chance – not just to make up for politicians’ recent blunderings, but “second” in the sense that it was a gift from the federal government that initially really got the city going decades ago – locating Barksdale Air Force Base next to it.

The $34 million not accounted for above is set aside to go towards a new Air Force installation, its Cyber Command, with its promises of hundreds, even thousands, of jobs, many high-paying – if Barksdale can land it. This represents lightning hitting the area twice in terms of federal government largesse.

If it happens, and the announcement could come as early as this week, we only can hope that Bossier City’s leaders acquire wisdom that, to this point, they’ve been shown unlikely to have. Waiting every 75 years or so for a major federal installation to show up and building facilities for retailers and entertainment acts and sports teams in the interim is not a very viable strategy for economic development. The sooner they realize these windfalls first belong in the pockets of Bossier City citizens rather than going to pay for signs on structures with their names on them, the quicker Bossier City will rise out of Shreveport’s shadow and become the economic and civic lodestar for Louisiana.

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