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Perkins must find money to put with mouth

Wonder Boy has arrived. Political neophyte Adrian Perkins took the oath of office last weekend to run the country’s 126th largest city, leaving as many questions as he answered with his inaugural remarks.

In his acceptance speech, the 33-year-old Democrat taking over the helm of Shreveport gave some details about his priorities. General platitudes he expressed during the campaign focused on seemingly eternal agenda items of crime reduction and increased economic development, but in a way utilizing more technology.

His statement elaborated marginally. He said more police officers would blanket higher-crime areas of town and downtown, with a greater emphasis on interactive community policing. As part of that, he told of increasing efforts to uphold property standards. Employing federal tax incentives, cutting red tape, and promoting greater online access and information provision he promised to kickstart business opportunity. He pledged to pursue an international airport designation for Shreveport Regional, and to appoint a full-time official to find and employ technological solutions to attract business, which especially included accurate billing for water and sewerage which had eluded his predecessor Ollie Tyler. Accentuating that the city had to appeal to a new generation, he stated initiatives such as city-wide broadband provision and downtown/riverfront revitalization would attract young talent.

Yet Perkins gave no indication how Shreveport would pay for these things. Of course, some would cost little, such as the rainmaker requests and bureaucratic procedural changes. Yet others could become quite expensive. For example, if redeploying police causes crime to surge in other areas of town, then the city may have to hire more officers. Also, more property standards enforcement may need more inspectors. And what is the price tag for free wireless web for all and the new technology for reading meters?

Possibly, solutions may leverage themselves. Contrary to popular perceptions, Shreveport isn’t exceptionally dangerous in comparative perspective. Among its central city peers among the state’s metropolitan areas, using 2017 data it ranks sixth of nine in violent crime rate, although looking specifically at murder and manslaughter it comes in fourth place. So, reallocating officers might make for more efficient policing without additional costs from burgeoning crime. As far as water billing goes, if the new technology improves collections and cuts down on expenses triggered by chasing shoddy invoicing, that might pay for itself.

Still, these initiatives likely will entail significant expenses for a city that has had eroding reserves and essentially flat sales tax collections over Tyler’s term. Plus, the city continues to grapple with a consent decree over its water and sewerage system that continues to escalate on cost, now estimated to eat up $700 million. Last year, the city had to charge a 15 percent increase in fees to cover that, and more hikes could be in the offing.

Having to pony up for these items might pay off in the long run, by spurring economic development boosting activity and property values (and inducing reversal of the slow but steady population decline necessary to do this), and therefore tax revenues. However, Perkins has presented no plans on how to finance this in the near future.

That’s what he must address next. His election appears as a reaction to two decades of little progress under Democrats after eight years of Republicans in City Hall, with his allusions to change and modernity. Amorphous exhortations at best are the start; now to follow through he must show those willing to take a chance on him how he can achieve these and get them to buy in to his as-yet unrevealed strategy to get there.

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