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Better late than never for Bossier City policy-making

Bossier City made another move towards entering the 21st century when, years if not decades late, it outsourced its water and sewerage operations. Baby steps now could turn into real progress – but this would require an unlikely sea change in elected officials’ way of thinking, if not substituting out the faces currently occupying its City Council and mayor’s office.

Historically plagued by a government-as-venture-capitalist vision, leading to well over a hundred million dollars of spending on items best left to the private sector that have turned into money-losers, and a big small town mentality, such as costing the city millions of dollars and land in a bait-and-switch maneuver with a local developer, over the past two decades Bossier City political leaders squandered an opportunity to make the city a low-tax haven with economic development beyond opening more retail establishments and call centers. A citizenry generally with shallow roots in the community where the even less successful governance of the sun around which it orbits, Shreveport, obscures its leaders’ mediocre-to-bad performance has allowed this state of affairs to continue despite several election cycles to make corrections.

Yet maybe Bossier City policy-makers finally are getting it together. In 2013, after years of contracting with Shreveport for solid waste pickup, the city finally privatized that – although not so much out of willingness to save ratepayers some bucks but because Shreveport’s price went too high. It then proceeded to negate any savings from that and then some by needlessly hiking water and sewerage rates, a choice made necessary by prior poor fiscal decision-making, even as consultants then told lawmakers – all but one reelected a few months prior to that along with Mayor Lo Walker – the increase would obviate any more hikes for many years.

Naturally, fewer than three years after the rate increase, Walker and the council concluded the enterprise fund still could not remain in the black even with these, opting to save a forecast over $2 million annually with the outsourcing. So as in the case of solid waste, the decision came down more to being pushed into a corner than from taking any proactive approach.

Ironically, the same majority that voted for the hikes in 2013 put through the 2016 privatization; one wished they had had their heads on straight back then to skip the increases and go straight to the outsourcing, but better late than never. Predictably, employees of that city division railed against the idea, with most unlikely to have a job after the change, but customers have no obligation to overpay in a monopoly situation just to subsidize a few.

So over a decade of arguing for privatization of applicable government functions in this space finally seems to be paying off in the case of Bossier City. But there’s still no visible movement concerning the disposal of the city’s white elephants: the CenturyLink Center and the Cyber Innovation Center.

The city has sunk nearly $40 million into the high-tech office building (combined the parish and state put in even more) designed to attract the military’s Cyber Command that allegedly would bring thousands of high-paying jobs to the area. The command settled elsewhere and since then only several hundred jobs came about (the high-paying portion of those preparing to decamp to Shreveport), more lower-paying ones appear on the way to the property but not in the building, and the main function of the building mutated into supporting education in technology – but creating few jobs. In short, the city’s tax revenues from the economic activity produced by its pro-rated share of the building come up woefully short in paying it back.

The Arena continues not only to lose money on an annual basis, but also that does not include the extra payments the city’s taxpayers make to keep it afloat, now about $5 million worth since its opening. While it has cost around $60 million, likely with a sales price many millions below that figure the city could sell it to operators that can turn a profit with it.

Don’t count on it. That Bossier City’s elected officials did not come willingly to divesting outsized government, instead reacting to crises in funding, tell us they lack the boldness necessary to cut their losses with these buildings. That’s something voters should remember when these politicians run for reelection next spring.

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