Last week, Shreveport Democrat Mayor Adrian Perkins issued a public plea for the City Council first, then voters to approve a $220 million package of bond proceeds pledged to go to a couple of dozen projects. Funding for this would come from renewal of a pair of expiring property taxes from 1996 and 1999 totaling 6.2 mills (rolled back).
The list, compiled by a citizens committee cobbled together by Perkins, as he pointed out has a number of worthy projects. Some address essential needs, such as aging public safety and water and sewerage infrastructure. Others don’t seem that necessary but merit serious consideration by voters, such as constructing conduits for broadband transmission that could invite future provider competition that encourage innovation and better pricing for customers.
But one item sticks out like a sore thumb for its questionable nature: the “Economic Growth and Job Creation Fund.” What is this? In his letter, Perkins mentions no details about this anticipated nearly $12 million in expenditure in “Special Projects" category of $25.46 million (“Roadway/Drainage/Water” asks for $94.9 million, and “Fire/Police/SPAR" requests the remaining nearly $100 million).
It sounds suspiciously like a contribution to a private developer’s plan concerning the Cross Bayou area. That concern, Gateway Development Consortium, says it wants to sink $1.5 billion into an area promising residences for 5,000 people, government office buildings, an athletic complex, retail space, a school, and museums. This comes off as a more grandiose version of a plan during the previous Mayor Ollie Tyler Administration to build an arena with residential and retail nearby in the general area.
The City Council rightly balked at putting up tens of millions of dollars to fund something the private sector should do on its own. Unfortunately, the Caddo Parish Commission, sitting on over a hundred million dollars (even after wasting some on three-wheeled cars that never will get built) from gas royalties, has been making approving noises about ponying up for this, and the Red River Waterway Commission, sitting fat and happy from proceeds of a too-high property tax it can’t find enough things to spend on, may follow suit.
The developers want around $50 million from government to assemble the land, perform environmental cleanup, harden the banks of Cross Bayou, and to put in infrastructure. Citizens should expect to foot the bill for streets, water, and sewerage, and it’s legitimate for the RRWC to make improvements on Cross Bayou’s banks (if that fits within its purview as established by federal law).
But if developers want to make some money, they don’t need to stick their hands out to taxpayer to give them pristine land. That’s their responsibility, with the $50 million figure likely to go much higher because of persistent recent flooding of the area by the Red River and unknown remediation issues that government could handle at lower cost, but there’s no reason it couldn’t bill this back to the developers.
GDC already catches a break with a federal law due to expire at the end of the year making the area an Opportunity Zone, qualifying it for property tax abeyance for a decade and tax free use of capital gains from other activities for funding in that area. Other than the basics listed above, it deserves no extra government largesse.
Besides the two Commissions turning down any requests beyond that, the Council should do the same. And, if it doesn’t and it groups the bond propositions into the three categories recommended by the citizens committee, if the questionable item remains voters must reject that proposition. City finances, plagued already by mismanagement, are stretched too thin to afford the luxury of boosting a developer’s bottom line.