Bossier City elected officials put one over on taxpayers. Let’s see if enough of them care to punish Republican Mayor Lo Walker and its seven City Council members next spring.
Last weekend, voters approved better than two-to-one a continuation of an existing 6 mill levy for public safety operations plus an increase of 0.19 mills, for the 2021-30 period. The increase matched the current rate paid, which was above the rate previously authorized by voters because of a constitutional loophole that allowed the city twice to raise rates beyond that because of a one-year devaluation of assessed property values in the city.
If at all taxpayer friendly, when in subsequent years values resumed their upward march, elected officials would have rolled back rates to the maximum voters had permitted. Instead, they kept the extra, and received validation for that sleight-of-hand in this election.
An election, keep in mind, engineered to capture the increase. It was placed at the runoff date for municipal elections, away from the higher profile set five weeks earlier headed by presidential preference primaries and which drew half-again proportionally more voters parishwide than the 13 percent who would turn out for the city-only item. This increased the electoral clout of city employees, particularly those in public safety, and eligible voters among their families, of whom likely most voted and almost all for the measure to vacuum up more dollars from taxpayers.
And asking for ratification of the increase on top of the existing millage amount created an extortionist demand; hand over authority for another $100,000 or so annually or else lose nearly $4 million for at least a year. That may have given pause to those offended by elected officials’ brazen attempt to milk taxpayers for more to hold their noses and vote for the measure.
The question now is whether this experience influences next year’s municipal elections. In the past two decades, greater election competition has occurred in ex-Soviet Union satellites than in Bossier City, with no term limits of any kind and an apathetic public willing to overlook elected officials’ mistakes out of gratitude they don’t live in Shreveport, that not only almost always sees the same faces back into power every quadrennium, but also almost all of them victorious without even picking up an opponent.
This has created a disconnection between the governed and the governing elites, verified by the high-handed approach taken in this election as well as with other lower-profile incidents, such as the on-then-off unloading of the money-losing Civic Center and subsequent ham-handed imbroglio over the Walker Administration’s firing of a recalcitrant contractor earlier this year. If nothing else, these kinds of things cement Bossier City’s status as the biggest small town around.
Only an engaged electorate with citizens willing to contest the power elite in elections can change this trajectory, forcing Bossier City elected officials to become more accountable and forthright. It has happened before: in 2001, upset over the city’s building a white elephant (and consistent money pit ever since) arena and where it was built, voters chased three councilors and let only one enjoy a free ride back in (four of the winners still hold office; one newcomer resigned after a year and was replaced by someone also still around). Whether this tax election, separately or as the straw that broke the camel’s back, triggers a similar response is crucial to bringing better governance to Bossier City.