This week the Bossier City Council will hear version 2.0 of how to waste $30 million.
It comes in the form of an idea recycled for years by the longtime free spenders of the Council, who have driven up the city’s debt, if entirely issued, to over a half billion dollars and nearly $7,000 per resident. Contrast that with the two cities in Louisiana of similar size, Kenner and Lake Charles, whose per capita debts respectively are about $1,300 and $800.
This extra $400 or so per person would go to the next iteration of what a few months ago was termed the “Bossier City Recreational Center and Senior Center.” The proposal put on the Apr. 6 agenda of the Council by Republican Councilor David Montgomery, but never heard over other councilors’ concerns about cost and need, envisioned tapping existing borrowing authority and interest earned to build over 95,000 square feet that would include a competition pool, family pool, gymnasium, elevated jogging track, and other amenities (but didn’t include about $5 million in furnishing costs).
The new proposal attempts to leverage a partnership between the city and the YMCA of Northwest Louisiana. Still carrying the same price tag and presumably largely engaging in the same kinds of activities, the somewhat-smaller 65,000 square-foot facility would be run by the Y, absolving the city of operating expenses although it would be on the hook for capital expenditures. The city would have access for some recreational and safety programs. Funding presumably would come from the $75 million in new borrowing authority the Council recently adopted.
But major questions remain about the need and viability of such an operation backed by government. The contemplated plan duplicates services already tendered by numerous for-profit and nonprofit entities in the area – including the Y’s other two locations in Shreveport, with its BHP location just a hop, skip, and jump from Bossier City.
Add to the mix that the Y just began constructing a third location in south Shreveport that further will add to area market capacity for fitness. Unlike relying on government backing, it will complete this project (about two-thirds the area in size, but also with outdoor activities) the old-fashioned way, through donations. And this infuses supply into a market that has seen retrenchment. CHRISTUS used to have a fitness facility in north Bossier City, only to have to close it last year.
Yet the most basic question concerns whether government should spend taxpayer dollars on something so peripheral to provision of genuine citizen needs. Why plunk down so much in the way of taxpayer resources on something the nongovernment sector already does? Why give such a huge comparative advantage in the marketplace to the Y to the exclusion of other fitness, health, and religious organizations? If the city needs a few indoor basketball/volleyball courts and water safety courses conducted so badly, can’t it build far more modest facilities at existing city locations or contract with existing providers for this? How can the Bossier City taxpayer benefit from a palatial facility he puts up the bucks to build then would have to pay hundreds of dollars a year in membership fees just to use?
Regrettably, Bossier City has a history of having taxpayers pony up for grandiose projects that either benefit others or are nonessential to the city, such as the Cyber Innovation Center, a parking garage for the Louisiana Boardwalk, and the Brookshire Grocery Arena. This profligacy has contributed in part to the eye-popping debt levels.
There’s no need to add to this burden with this giveaway. Republican Mayor Tommy Chandler has vowed to veto an ordinance using debt on this wastefulness. Hopefully the Council will have the wisdom not to let it come to that.