Just as, maybe, the furor that erupted when the extent of Bossier City’s fiscal mismanagement became known was beginning to dissipate, here came some reminders of the bungling that may have far-reaching consequences for the city.
During last year’s budget process, even as city officials probably knew of it long before the fall exercise but kept it hidden in order not to complicate their reelection possibilities and in the hopes somehow the problem would solve itself, the current year budget was found to be wildly, about 13 percent, short. This caused the dismissal of dozens of public safety personnel and other minor cutbacks in the city budget for that and this fiscal year.
Angry citizens wanted to know how it was the city had spent lavishly on an arena, parking garage, and high-tech office building, none of which would ever pay for themselves in anybody’s lifetime, yet had spent itself into deficit and simultaneously was threatening a near-doubling of water and sewerage rates after having doubled rates only a few years previously. Worse, in all of this unneeded building the city’s debt zoomed up to a level over seven times the city’s annual non-enterprise revenues and more maybe needed for water and sewerage matters (which could have been more than paid for by the spending on the above luxury items).
Now a couple of more things are looming to fan the flames of citizen discontent. First, another presumed extra expense suddenly will strike in the city in the near future, a hike in the premiums it must pay for employee pensions as a combination of subdued economic times and (in at least one case) poor investments. This could cost the city as much as an unbudgeted $800,000 over a year.
It could have been worse, as roughly another $800,000 increase from the Firefighters’ Retirement System of Louisiana was anticipated and put into the budget as Bossier City Fire Chief Sammy Halphen was on its board and notified the city. But his brother, Police Chief Mike Halphen who is leaving office had resigned from the board of the Municipal Police Employees Retirement System (MPERS) in the spring of last year and didn’t tell the city or his brother about looming deficits there.
(Although it really wasn’t that hard to figure out that the MPERS request would go up substantially, just by looking at the latest audit statement of MPERS and also knowing the state of the national economy and about the controversial money-losing and allegedly illegal activities in which MPERS was involved. One also would have thought that if one board reported a big loss, the other might do the same. But, apparently,
Add to this that, of an inconvenience to be determined, that by May the city will have to have an election to renew the 6 mill property tax dedicated to public safety salaries. The tax raised $3 million in recent years but only because of refusals to allow the tax to roll forward, meaning its effective rate now is 4.9 mills.
This could be inconvenient for the city because voters might take it out on the city’s squandering of their money by voting the measure down. Enough may want to send the message that they no longer trust the spendthrift politicians even with something as straightforward as this.
They may also vote it down because they fear it will become a backdoor tax increase. If the renewal does occur at 6 mills, the City Council may not undertake the action to prevent the roll forward, inconveniencing the citizenry. Given past behavior when it comes to being wise stewards with money, there’s every reason not to trust
If the city tries to go for the whole hog, it risks allowing the fallout over its fiscal stupidity to continue to redound. Its politicians should adhere to the Falstaffian admonition that the better part of valor is discretion – not the strong suit of