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Parish must emulate Bossier City on fiscal rectitude

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s aggressive approach to reducing state taxpayer handouts to nongovernmental organizations and local governments largely was well received by the public earlier this year. One northwest Louisiana government seems to have learned from this, while another apparently has not.

Last year, the Bossier City Council wisely did not act on a request by the Ark-La-Tex Mardi Gras Museum which is located in the city, to subsidize it to the tune of $25,000, approximating its current revenues. (This is regardless of the fact that, given the stipulations the city placed upon krewes several years ago, Carnival krewes no longer parade in the city.) Its executive director held out the museum as a great educational opportunity, and asserted that with its disappearance of public grants that its donors and admission fees collected from roughly 5,000 annual attendees could not keep open its doors much longer.

One must admire the audacity of the request while being repelled with its inanity. Are there not other grants out there to be had, and, if not, don’t their absence or rejection of applications from the group tell us just how valued of an enterprise organized philanthropy thinks this is? And if the museum is so important to the concept of Carnival around these parts, why don’t the krewe members themselves come to the rescue? With several hundred of them parading in any given year, each could carve $50 out of their throw, costume, ball, and/or libations budget to donate to the museum which would more than make up the deficit.

Simply, there is no moral imperative for the overburdened Bossier City taxpayer to have to pony up for this cause given the myriad alternate sources of funds for it. Failure for these to come through would demonstrate that the museum brings so little value to the community that it makes anything but a compelling case for public dollars.

If only Bossier Parish seemed to have on other issues the same sense Bossier City has on this one. Less than a year on the job, Police Juror Barry Butler complained how hundreds of thousands of parish dollars annually were being spent on educational matters – a policy area supposed to be expended for by the Bossier Parish School District. He even claimed that a widespread perception existed among school personnel that they could hit up the parish if the district didn’t want to fork over for a project.

Much of that money came from the Police Jury's discretionary funds. Each juror is annually given $5,000 of parish money to use at his or her discretion (the parish will match up to $2,500). The remainder comes in the form of subsidy from the parish workers assigned to complete larger projects where the parish fronts money first, then has gotten reimbursed for materials later by the School Board.

In a remarkable display of talking out of both sides of his mouth, the originator of the discretionary funds practice, Parish Administrator and Juror Bill Altimus said “Bossier Parish tax dollars are precious no matter who they are paid by,” and then actually argues this saves taxpayers’ money (it is largely the same set of individuals paying for both jurisdictions) because “it is much cheaper to the taxpayer for the School Board to pay for the material and allow the Police Jury to utilize its highway crews to provide the labor and equipment.”

Entirely disingenuous about this remark is that if parish employees are doing work for the school district then they are not doing work for the parish. Further, if one would argue there is enough slack time among parish employees to permit this without neglecting parish work, then the parish is overstaffed and wasting taxpayer dollars.

At best, this practice blurs accountability and transparency among local governments; at worst, it inefficiently uses the overburdened Bossier Parish taxpayers’ resources. The discretionary funds part of it absolutely stinks, echoing the old state practice abolished only a few years ago with virtually no public oversight – the Jury certainly doesn’t advertise how much money goes where upon the request of which juror.

Despite what the recently-passed budget allocated in this way, these slush funds must end as well as the practice of giving gifts to other local governments who should pay for their own things out of their own pockets. At least the jurors recently, after noise from several talking about how much sacrifice they were making in their jobs, had enough sense to stop any talk of raising their own pay. Hopefully enough police jurors will put the citizenry first and their ego-stroking and/or reelection desires, courtesy of being able to shower supplicants with money, second to abolish these abusive practices.

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