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NW LA voters may deliver sound fiscal policy messages

Money matters in upcoming Bossier and Shreveport elections this Saturday, even where it’s not a tax issue that’s being considered. As it turns out, it gives the citizenry in both the parish and the city to send messages to elected officials and wannabes, some with tin ears.

The largest dollar amounts go to the three propositions floated by Shreveport for waters and sewerage infrastructure, streets and drainage infrastructure, and changes made to public buildings, their resources, and parks. Totaling $175 million, the city argues that unless it makes now some improvements for legal reasons dealing with environmental and accessibility concerns, the federal government may force these things on it without warning, as well as tackling deferred maintenance.

These measures have generated some controversy because to some observers they don’t seem quite essential, asserting that no legal action presently exists against the city for the presumed shortcomings to be addressed by the spending and these measures were put together hastily, but perhaps more because of the city’s claim that taxes won’t rise as a result of these new issues. They account for a little over 14 mills and would increase the authorized property tax take by the city for its property holders from a little over 44.5 mills to a little over 58.5 mills annually, which sure does seem like a tax increase.

However, the city’s position is that, while the authorization would be to go up as high as roughly 58.5 mills, it can time the sales of bonds over the next few years and combined with other issues coming to maturity, early retirement of others, and with the existing Debt Service Fund balance in the neighborhood of $60 million to pay some future principal and interest, it never will have to collect the additional 14 or so mills, at least for these projects. Thus, citizens would have to trust the Mayor Cedric Glover Administration on this, and any future administrations until millages expire that would bring down the legal ceiling on property taxes.

Opponents also question the need for any kind of new issues. They note that Shreveport's millage rate is one the highest in the state already. Among the nine cities with at least 50,000 people, currently it trails only New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Lafayette, with the next highest (Monroe) being only half the rate authorized if all three measures pass. But in all those cases, they are part of larger consolidated governments that meld in parish services as well as city. Separating out functions, Lafayette's is much lower and Baton Rouge's probably is (its reporting only allows some functions to be separated, but of the melded ones it appears if separated its rate would be lower). New Orleans and Orleans Parish legally are the same, so they cannot be disentangled, but if all three pass, the authorized rate for Shreveport, without any parish functions as part of it at all, would be slightly higher than even that.

A much clearer-cut decision awaits Bossier Parish voters regarding a millage renewal for running corrections operations. While a parish proposition, the operation actually occurs through Sheriff Larry Deen’s office. Both deserve rebuke for monetary actions of the past few years.

Last year Deen called (perhaps in violation of notice-and-comment laws) a meeting where he perfunctorily listened to mostly hand-picked speakers, then summarily allowed property taxes to roll forward. Governing authorities in the state must do this affirmatively to prevent from being collected the same overall parish tax amount on all properties not sold after the last assessment. In other words, he raised taxes with this decision to the tune of 1.34 mills or about $1.1 million.

A couple of years previously, the Parish, along with Bossier City and the state, plunked down money to finance the Cyber Innovation Center, in its case $15 million. It was supposed to attract thousands of new jobs and millions in tax revenues. Instead, it ended up as relatively inexpensive rental property mainly benefitting the federal government that loses money.

Now it’s voters’ chance to teach the tinpot authoritarian and the profligate parish a lesson. By rejecting the issue, the parish (its growing population funneling plenty of new revenues to it) will have to find other money to fund the jail, but a better option would be to work out a cooperative arrangement with Deen to have him fund at least some of its operations. The delicious scenario gives voters real leverage, for the last thing both entities would want, for both practical and political reasons, is for the jail doors to be opened and Deen’s officers out of a job.

Given the vast amount of resources of a department whose revenues and spending have grown far faster than the population being served or it needs, some of it questionable (much greater examples in amount exist but the one getting the most attention being “Project Exodus”), voting down the $2.4 million a year this levy would cut, offset by last year’s increase, total Sheriff’s revenues only 3.7 percent. He might be quite eager to make such a deal.

But bloat isn’t restricted only in Bossier public safety department to the sheriff. That’s an issue in the Bossier City marshal’s contest as a similar situation of accelerating revenue growth encouraged late Marshal Johnny Wyatt to branch out that office’s functions beyond its legal duties (from which it is not prohibited from doing so), bring with it questions of accountability and efficiency.

Only one of the three candidates, Shreveport Deputy Marshal Carl Richard, has promised to review and pare the office of duties that might be performed better and more appropriately by other law enforcement agencies. The others, security manager Sammy Wyatt and former Bossier City Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Austin, refuse to consider this and talk of expanding spending even further.

Austin, long part of the insiders who have run Bossier City into the ground, apparently has been stung by growing public realization of his profligate record and how it may carry over to the revenue streams awaiting the next marshal, so has taken to pledging to cut the marshal’s salary if elected. He also faces criticism over what he claimed as inadvertent use of city resources in his campaign. Wyatt seems content to have his name linked with the positive association the late Wyatt’s name had. Neither substitute for a lack of courage in dealing with the genuine issue of office reconceptualization that Richard pursues and thus wise voters should reward him for that.


Anonymous said...

Moron gate. What a self gratification fool. Be careful, you might make yourself go blind.

Jeff Sadow said...

You learn something new every day -- I guess they give inmates at the asylum Internet access, from the looks of that previous comment.

Anonymous said...

Watch the eye-sight, moron.

Jeff Sadow said...

Must be the same Bossier elected official or toady noted elsewhere who has skipped his medications. The orderlies need to monitor him more closely.