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Myths impede honest appraisal of Bossier City budget

There are several myths about aspects of Bossier City’s budget propagated by some of its officials but especially by Bossier City press secretary wannabes. Let’s look at them:

Bossier City’s riverfront development fund is called the “riverboat gaming trust fund.” One media lapdog incorrectly calls it this, but there actually are two separate accounts, their real names being the Riverboat Gaming Capital Project (into which the money from gambling revenues goes and from which money for capital projects gets derived) and the Riverboat Trust Fund (transferred from the other and serves as the vehicle to disburse for other expenses).

Bossier City is asking for a “fee for service” increase for its waste collection (much actually contracted to Shreveport) and Emergency Medical Services. A “fee for service” arrangement is one where a user of a city service is billed proportionally for the provision of a specific amount of a good or service. For example, past a minimum charge water costs are billed by amount of water used and thus are a fee for service.

But a flat fee charged regardless of amount of use of that service, or even if it is used at all, takes on the characteristics of a tax. For waste collection and EMS, all homeowners (and even others) are billed simply because they can be, regardless of whether they actually use the service. These are not genuine fee for service arrangements. If it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, guess what it is?

Bossier City has spent money on necessary things so it is justified in hiking fees. Unfortunately, the entire City Council and the mayor in his previous job as city chief administrative officer chose to spend over $21 million on the Louisiana Boardwalk parking garage, a structure that could easily have been provided by the developers.

As recent reports shows, the sales tax boost from the Boardwalk is microscopic compared to this amount and the fallout for existing Bossier businesses already is being felt with the closure of Pierre Bossier Mall’s long-standing Bennigans franchise. This is reflected in the sales tax estimated take in the 2006 budget of a rise of just 4 percent (which the budget itself calls “optimistic”), essentially the inflation rate.

Or how about the $56.5 million for the CenturyTel Center? It lost money in both 2004 and 2005 (although this year’s loss was aggravated by its use as an emergency shelter) and only an extraordinarily optimistic, likely unattainable, 21 percent projected boost in revenues projects any net gain from it in 2006. Why doesn’t the city sell it and make much more a year off banking the interest?

Had the city use of this interest and that derived from the money blown on the garage, the dip into the trust fund would be about two-thirds less. Ego and a misguided view that government can plan economic growth now cause Bossier City elected officials to demand that the citizenry make up for their mistakes.

Bossier City is asking for these increases because the costs of providing these services have increased. The 2006 budget shows that these requests are almost totally unrelated to the intended expenditures of these funds.

Waste collection costs are about the same as they have been, just located in different parts of the budget (the item being grass cutting and street sweeping). But note that while these activities have everything to do with waste creation, they have nothing to do with waste collection.

The fire department budget projected cost increase is about $1 million less than the total the projected EMS hike would bring in. This is because the only significant cost increase in public safety in general since 2004 has been in retirement contributions that a series of unfavorable actions in other parts of Louisiana government has forced upon the city. Only perhaps 10 percent of any increased costs can be tied directly to EMS service expansion since 2004. Spiraling retirement costs are the real, barely-mentioned reason for the increase.

In truth, these increases were proposed because the city could get away with grabbing more revenue this way the easiest, not because of any significant cost increases in the underlying activities they are supposed to be tied to.

Bossier City residents should agree with the increases. They showed why they shouldn’t with their reactions at the Nov. 1 Council meeting. As I have warned, city politicians better remember the 1997 lesson courtesy of Bossier Parish voters, who shot down an EMS increase at the polls (an event that at least one media sycophant seems to have forgotten). And they seemed to get the point by delaying action on the budget.

Bossier City politicians and their media bootlickers who do not admit these are myths are disingenuous and irresponsible. Now that’s something that isn’t a myth. They’re simply stuck on stupid.

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