SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The Greater Shreveport Chamber and the Committee of 100 – an influential group of local business owners – have come out in opposition to all but one of the mayor’s bond proposals in the upcoming December 11 election.
And the approval of the one proposal they say they can support comes with caveats.
In a joint statement released Monday, which can be read below, the chamber and the Committee of 100 said they could only support the first of those propositions. Proposition 1 would pay for $69 million in improvements to the city’s public safety services. In addition to the $27.5 million for a new police headquarters, it includes $24.2 million for fire vehicles and equipment, station maintenance and renovations, and the relocation of three fire stations.
The group of business leaders says they recognize the city’s critical public safety plant needs, but ask that “those funds “be utilized only for the construction of the new police and fire stations, and that the city commits to limiting its bond issuance amount to those funds currently available in the debt service fund.
“By issuing bonds equal to the available surplus funds, the city can fund these buildings without raising taxes. Furthermore, we ask the city to delay issuing these bonds until a new permanent Chief is selected for each service and each Chief has made a presentation to the public concerning the design, function and budget for each of these facilities.”
They say they would prefer the city defer propositions 2, 3, and 4, which provide for technology improvements; water, sewerage and drainage; streets, bridges and sidewalks; and parks and recreational facilities, respectively.
The organizations say they recognize the need for infrastructure improvements but want to revisit the proposal to see if there is a way to address those needs without raising taxes.
They also acknowledged the massive global disruptions to supply chains and business, along with a lack of investment in infrastructure and economic development. On top of that, the business leaders noted, “We are a shrinking city,” which in turn means the tax base is also shrinking.
“At the same time, the city administration has proposed the largest general obligation bond proposal in the city’s recent history. While the proposed allocations for these monies are arguably appropriate, there has been a great deal of change to the city’s circumstances since the proposals passed the City Council.”
The city council voted to place the new $236M bond proposal on the November ballot back in April. Police Chief Ben Raymond resigned in August and Assitant Chief Wayne Smith was named Interim Police Chief. In October, Chief John “J.P.” Lane was tapped to lead the Shreveport Fire Department as substitute chief as the city searches for a permanent replacement following the retirement of Chief Scott Wolverton.
The December 11 election was originally set to take place on November 13 before it was pushed back due to Hurricane Ida.
“In short order, there has been the installation of interim leadership in our police and fire services,” the letter continues. “The City has purchased 3 and Council has voted to purchase an additional 3 fire trucks out of existing dollars, nearly one half of the bond proposal request; the administration has allocated much of the $48M American Rescue Plan funds toward the same sectors outlined in the bond proposals; and Congress recently passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill which will bring significant revenues to our city for water and sewer, roads and broadband deployment – three of the bond proposals sectors.”
In light of all of these developments and “multiple available funding sources” available, the group of business leaders say they are asking for a “broader strategic conversation” to craft a plan to address the city’s pressing local infrastructure needs.
“We recognize that the city has deferred maintenance and infrastructure needs that we, as citizens, have an obligation to address. However, we believe that given the current fiscal picture, the citizens of Shreveport would be best served in the short term by a limited and focused set of bond projects and in the long term by the development of a strategic approach to identifying and funding these infrastructure needs. We stand ready to work with the city to provide our input to and our vocal support for such a strategic approach.”
“The passage of all five bond propositions is key to the quality of life and economic opportunities in our city,” Mayor Perkins said in a statement late Monday afternoon in response to the letter.
“This past February, we all experienced the results of ailing infrastructure under the duress of a severe winter storm. Our aging water system failed and left us without water for more than a week. For the first time, many came to understand the need for improved infrastructure. Addressing our most critical infrastructure needs is a billion-dollar problem that federal dollars alone won’t solve and that is something Timothy Magner has acknowledged to me.
Yes, this bond is more than the 2019 bond proposal, because the needs remain and become more costly the longer we defer action. Our strategy is to take a $246 million piece out of our billion-dollar problems. Those funds can also be used to match state and federal opportunities in the future. Hoping to receive federal funding is not an option for us.
As soon as we begin to disburse money from these bonds, my administration has plans to immediately begin to pay down debt with $40 million of defeasance funds, which can only be used to pay off debt. That means we will only be paying $196 million. This bond is sorely needed for us to continue to move our beloved City in the direction of progress.”