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Shreveport needs to throw Carnival bills at others

As Carnival season has passed, one wonders whether a festering issue left over from it will become part of city election contests this fall.

The city has been picking up the tab of nearly $200,000 annually for supporting four parades, two of which – those of the large Centaur and Gemini Krewes – are focused on the Carnival period and the other smaller two – Holiday in Dixie and African-American History – occur at other times. With budgetary stress only mounting on the city, its Council in particular has floated the idea that the city receives compensation for this as part of its provision of service to these organizations.

In turn, supporters of the present system argue that (recognizing the reality that the vast bulk of these expenses come from accommodating Centaur and Gemini) the parades bring in tax revenues that ought, in a sense, to pay back the city. LSUS’ Center for Business and Economic Research estimates the Carnival season, almost all of which would be attributed to these parades, generates $350,000 extra in sales taxes.

But digging into the numbers, the city’s case grows stronger. Consider the $350,000 figure (based upon an estimated economic impact of $17 million): probably a good portion of that comes from individuals residing nearby who, without the parades, would have spent on alternatives that also would have registered in city sales tax coffers. Thus, only some proportion, perhaps not even the majority, of this gain is directly a result of the parading.

Further, external costs passed onto the citizenry are not included. For example, the intrepid editor of this publication becomes a shell of his former self the two weekends of these parades as he struggles for the preservation of his humble abode that lies near the parade route, battling the wave of detritus that washes over his otherwise pristine property. Traffic inconveniences, loss of business activity in the nearby areas, etc. also factor into this, costs never calculated.

So it can be argued persuasively that, from the city and it citizens’ perspective, the costs of the parades exceed their benefits. Certainly Bossier City, of all places, saw it that way when a few years ago it waved goodbye to hosting part of the parades rather than to allow them their preferred times and routes through the City that Fiscal Probity Forgot. Also notable is that precedent exists for these parades to pick up their own expenses. The smaller Krewe of Highland does precisely that.

However, this strategy might seriously jeopardize the parading. For example, the two big krewes have roughly 1,000 members, of which perhaps half at most get to ride on floats (which incurs extra expenses to them). Passing the cost onto them would entail an extra $200 per person which may discourage too severely their participation.

Thus, part of a solution would entail making krewes somewhat more monetarily responsible for their affairs. Shreveport estimates expenses annually to be $109,500 for police overtime and drunken driving tests, $16,800 for fire department overtime and emergency response units, $38,800 for Operational Services to deal with barricades and cleaning up, and $27,100 for Shreveport Public Assembly and Recreation to handle portable bathrooms and cleaning up (and a small amount of this is offset by charges for reserving spots along E. Kings Ave. for revelers for the two Saturdays). It would not be unreasonable to charge the krewes $66,000 annually for barricading and cleaning up; after all, if any ordinary citizen stopped traffic and began to litter profusely instead of being welcomed as economic development he would be fined.

The remaining $127,000 could be paid by the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau which collects a tax on hotel rental rooms which will house a small portion of Carnival revelers. In the latest audited year, it ran a surplus of nearly $600,000, made nearly $4 million off the occupancy tax authorized by the local citizenry, and had over $2.7 million in unrestricted cash lying around. That’s not too much to ask from this quasi-public entity whose reason for existence squarely matches with the existence of the parades.

Eventually, the city decided it could raise its spot reservation charges from a startlingly-low $10 or $20 to $75, but that raises only an additional roughly $19,000. That's really not enough in times of budgetary stress.

Despite the impression given by standing along the side of the road and having people throw essentially worthless baubles at you, nothing in life is free. Elected officials need to understand this and to make discerning choices when handling taxpayers’ monies. Getting Shreveport out of the business of subsidizing events that don’t really pay for themselves meets this goal. Whether candidates for mayor or council have enough gumption to suggest these solutions is another issue.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

While you do not have much of a life, the rest of us do and appreciate quality of life offerings. You are truly an idiot. "If you cannot do anything else, teach."