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Failing "Field of Dreams" strategy to cost Bossier City residents

As the Soviet Union teetered to oblivion, it provided increasing comic relief by its “explanations” for poor agricultural output. The befuddled communist leadership kept reporting that “bad weather” year after year caused them to fall short of their quotas.

Of course, we knew then and now that it was the collectivist, planned economy behind communism that wasted resources and provided disincentives to produce, as well as robbing people of their economic freedom, that caused these repeated failures. Concerning this, one gets this feeling it’s like déjà vu all over again concerning Bossier City government and the Louisiana Boardwalk outdoor mall.

Only months ago city officials were hyping the project as a key component to turning around the city’s deteriorating finances, which for the previous couple of years had run an operating deficit, forcing the city to dip into its riverfront development fund, where funds go from deals struck with various casinos (after the fund has reached a certain level, then withdrawals may be made, a point long since attained). Now we learn the 2006 budget still is in deficit, to the tune of about $6 million.

Yes, city leaders did trot out the “bad weather” (too hot) explanation and claimed stores were opening behind schedule. Never mind that being too hot would explain little: since the Boardwalk is a mall of sorts, if people wanted the experience but felt deterred because it was hot outside, a good many would realize there’s always the indoor version at Bossier’s Pierre Bossier mall.

As in the case of the Soviet Union, this official explanation masks the true reason: at best the Boardwalk will add little to Bossier City’s economy. Either it will cannibalize existing Bossier businesses, or it will do the same to Shreveport’s which will make jobs held by Bossierites disappear that possibly may reappear at the Boardwalk. It’s never going to have a more than a trivial impact on Bossier City sales and property tax revenues, considering what it will subtract from other Bossier resources.

And it seems now the city is willing to admit it (in a way to try to deflect embarrassment from its elected officials), because the 2006 budget proposal anticipates – you guessed it – tax increases. The city wants to double Emergency Medical Service fees and increase by a third trash disposal fees, in order to partially (about 40 percent) offset the gaming revenues encumbered.

If the city politicians really believed the Boardwalk would deliver (a belief some touted in their reelection campaigns only months ago) what they had promised, why have these fee hikes? Indeed, why have fee hikes at all when the city sits on tens of millions of dollars in the fund that legally could be spent on city services?

Some would argue this money should be saved as a “rainy day” fund which is all well and true, but the city would have more credibility on this matter had it not run out and spent in excess of $40 million on the Boardwalk project. A decent chunk of that would have to be spent on infrastructural improvements, but over half – about $21 million – was spent on the Boardwalk’s parking garage, an item the developer should have paid for.

The Boardwalk and this budget remind us how Bossier City’s elected officials are hung up on shiny baubles like the Boardwalk and are indifferent to allowing the people to keep what they earn. When it comes to something flashy to which they can attach their names, the sky’s the limit in spending. But when it comes to using existing monetary resources to keep their hands out of the people’s pockets, they defer. The “Field of Dreams” economic development strategy (build it and they will come) doesn’t work; what does is creating a reduced-tax environment Bossier City officials now officially have come out against.

Just two things the city should consider before it lightens Bossier City residents’ pocketbooks of $2.2 million – a whole lot of its elected officials lost their jobs over its handling of the building of the CenturyTel Center, and I think city residents still share the view of some years ago of their parish brethren, when they decisively rejected at the ballot box an EMS hike of similar proportions.

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