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Bossier Parish's best government in northwest Louisiana

Despite sitting on a pile of money, despite having made bad economic development decisions, despite alternative ways of dealing with the problem of using gambling revenues besides jacking up fees on Bossier City residents, its City Council voted to do precisely that for 2006.

Irony abounded in it all. You had a Republican mayor, Lo Walker, recommending this course of action and almost all Republicans on the council – David Montgomery, Tim Larkin, and Scott Irwin – going along with taking more money out of the peoples’ pockets (more predictably Democrats Don Williams and James Rogers would). Yet two of the less likely individuals to be the ones to vote against it, independent Jeff Darby (perhaps because his constituents, who have a higher percentage of lower-income indivudals among them, would get hardest hit) and Republican David Jones (less likely because of his consistent pro-big government spending record), did not vote for it. But two voices for sanity were not enough to carry the day.

But along with this money grab, in a bizarre effort to show that the city somehow was fiscally responsible, the Council also decided not to fund 14 new hires, many in public safety. So it comes back to this, still again: the city will give away parking garages worth over $21 million with little or fiscal no return from it, yet won’t pony up $485,000 for these positions which would improve public safety. (And, don’t forget, the $56.5 million CenturyTel Center lost a little less than that amount this year.)

Still, whatever follies have been committed by Bossier City are overshadowed by those occurring next door. So maybe Bossier City spent $78 million on “economic development” schemes which return basically nothing and haven’t produced any development, but at least it wasn’t twice that amount, didn’t add onto a mountain of debt to do so, and, on the aggregate, probably won’t lose much money.

This dishonorable situation of course goes to Shreveport’s Mayor Keith Hightower and the Democrats on its City Council in their decisions to build a convention center and (in this instance totally on their own) a publicly-owned hotel to go along with it. And although Bossier City’s budget over the past several years has shown mild growth past the rate of inflation, Shreveport’s rate of increase has left it in the dust.

As work begins on Shreveport’s 2006 budget, it looks to weigh in at $339 million – a 134 percent increase since Hightower took office while the Consumer Price Index rose just 22 percent over the same period. Unless you own certain meter-reading companies, owe money for revitalized real estate, or are middlemen in waste-handling deals, it’s impossible to argue that in the past seven years that the city has provided a double-and-a-third more services to you and/or performed these services that much better. But, it is going to make Shreveport residents and consumers pay for it anyway.

Perhaps Bossier City should have saved its $78 million to reduce its absconding of people’s money. But this is nothing compared to Shreveport with almost a billion dollars in debt and a backlog of infrastructural improvements in the hundreds of millions. Even if Bossier City just jacked up sewerage rates by a third, Shreveport is readying to finally jack up its water rates by about 50 percent, on top of its mountain of debt and infrastructure needs.

However, lest Bossier City residents feel too much better by this “grass-isn’t-greener” comparison, here’s one that will bring them back to earth: not only is Bossier Parish not taking more from its citizens, in 2006 it will give out salary raises and actually cut its budget by 24 percent! Of course, most of this is as a result of dramatically lower capital expenditures since major projects such as the parish courthouse addition and new jail will be finished and it will forgo budgeting with the approximately $2 million it could expect from the state. While this would delay some projects it would create little inconvenience and, if the state does come through with the usual funds, these projects could be tackled immediately. Most importantly, there are no fee hikes involved here.

It’s refreshing to see at least one area government that doesn’t go out building monuments to itself in the mistaken belief that government, not the private sector, creates economic development, or, as in the case of Caddo Parish, would rather refuse changing its spending priorities in order to squeeze more from the taxpayers (in this case, for juvenile justice operations). For these reasons, just as in 2004, Bossier Parish’s government is 2005’s best area government.

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