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Disgust at Shreveport garbage fee should go further

Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler will have to reassess old spending priorities to shore up a leaky 2017 city budget buffeted by property tax and garbage fee subtractions.

During quadrennial periods coinciding with presidential election years, Louisiana assessors perform a mandatory reassessment on all property in their parishes, reflected in that year’s billing. In Caddo, as with some other parishes in the wake of flooding during the year and a general economic slowdown in the oil patch, its assessor Charles Henington reduced marginally property values parishwide.

In typical years where assessments rise – either because of the reassessment or because property sales occur at values higher than the property’s previously-assessed values – governing authorities on their own may roll forward millages in order to capture more tax revenue. Even if they do nothing, rates automatically roll back to produce a constant stream of dollars. But in a situation where property tax proceeds actually will go down because of changed assessments, they cannot do anything unilaterally to prevent that.

As a result, Shreveport will lose roughly over a half a million dollars in revenue from that source. That corresponds to the amount Tyler and the city threw away with the Kafkaesque “living minimum wage” hike enacted earlier this year that redistributes taxpayer resources into above-market salaries for around 400 jobs in city government.

However, that small budget hole pale in comparison to that the City Council, perhaps not enthusiastically, perpetrated when it removed from the budget a $12 per water connection monthly fee for garbage pickup. Ratepayers descended upon their representatives, a majority of whom bent to the will of their constituents and stripped the fee, even as they voiced misgivings about whether people really understood the issue.

Currently, the general fund, where sales and property taxes go, provides around $8 million a year in subsidization to run the city’s solid waste operations. With an estimated more than $9 million annually that would have flowed into a separately created enterprise fund to back garbage handling, the subsidies could go for other purposes, which the budget document identifies as whittling down a roads backlog. Without the fee, the city implies that won’t happen.

The hue and cry showed an amazing populist response to the fee’s imposition, remarkable in that not only do most mid-size and above cities have such a mechanism but also right across the river Bossier City residents without much in the way of complaints essentially pay twice as much monthly as what Tyler proposed. Even more amazingly, Shreveport residents cough up without any visible protest $2.50 a month for the privilege of sorting through their own trash and separating out for pickup recyclable items, subsidizing that cost-inefficient policy.

Such passion has better places for direction for the city to save money instead of increasing fees. And the leading target remains the same, the city-owned Hilton Hotel that will cost taxpayers needlessly tens of millions of dollars over the decades. The 2017 budget acknowledges that, in operational terms, it now makes only around a half million dollars a year, less than a fifth of the debt service for which taxpayers must compensate. Assuming Shreveport could sell it for half of the $65 million in debt and future interest, it would save an average of $1.5 million a year through 2035.

If the hotel would not serve as the top priority to shed, its allied Convention Center would. It loses money merely by operating, a predicted over $1.5 million next year. On top of it, its debt service – not separated in the city’s reporting of general obligation bond indebtedness – must run several million dollars a year. Again, a sale of it at half of its debt load would save half of these figures on a yearly basis.

Add it up, and these retained dollars likely could pay for solid waste handling. But city politicians seem to give no thought to sloughing off these wastefully expensive baubles and think first to hit up the citizenry instead. That’s what truly ought to enrage the people.

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