SADOW: Bossier City’s Backhanded Attempt At Fiscal Responsibility

Again, it’s only $36,000, but it’s also illustrative of what happens when government elites take the people’s money to rule in their interests, not the people’s, and the bad fiscal consequences that entails.

Last week, the Bossier City Council approved a three-year contract at that sum per year to pay existing contractor Todd Killen to run the Bossier Tennis Center. Those duties include giving lessons, conducting clinics, running tournaments and leagues, and offering repairs and merchandise, all together necessitating the hiring of employees, while the city picks up operating and maintenance costs of the facility.

During the final consideration of the ordinance, Republican Councilor Chris Smith noted that in comparison with typical area contracts of this nature that these have provisions such as a requirement for fundraising and diversion of part of fees remitted to local government as a reserve for capital expenditures. The contract in question had neither, and he asked whether these could be included.

Killen said he could amplify fundraising but balked at giving up any of his revenue. This should have flashed a red light to councilors; many other area operators, including Shreveport’s, didn’t see this as a problem and demonstrated that they will work under such a deal, so it raises the question whether Killen receives excessive largesse from taxpayers.

The potential amount in controversy goes far beyond the contract number. As the facility ages, its capital needs could spiral into the millions of dollars, borne as is entirely by city taxpayers. And all to benefit an unknown but very small number of individuals subsidized by taxpayers in order for them to play tennis.

If anything, the fruits of the discussion – which featured several speakers lauding the deal and Killen’s operation – raises serious questions about whether more than an infinitesimal portion of Bossier Citians actually benefit from the center and the deal and even whether the city should be in this business. Killen admitted about 80 members play but claims a larger unknown audience shows up to pay as they go – and apparently a significant portion of them not even residents of Bossier City. And they congregate in such numbers that there are wait list and lines for courts, he said.

If so, there are two immediate implications. First, it is unlikely that the equivalent of even one-hundredth of the city’s 2020 census population of 62,701 uses the courts, and of that a significant portion don’t live in the city and pay taxes for the contract and upkeep, meaning city taxpayers are subsidizing non-residents to play tennis. Second, if business is so good, why should the city subsidize it all? The excuse so often trotted out by the big-spending Council greybeards no party Jeff Darby, Democrat Bubba Williams, and Republican David Montgomery for their profligacy is that the extra expense is for “quality of life,” but this rationale falls apart if it involves government doing something where the economics exist for the private sector to provide it and is especially suspect when the “quality of life” activity is targeted only to a small sliver of the citizenry and one disproportionately affluent, as in this case.

The only half-decent argument for continued subsidization came from testimony that the Center attracted tournaments that could bring in out-of-towners. However, it’s incredulous to believe that the sales and occupancy taxes thus gathered from these folks is more than a pittance to offsetting the contract fee, much less the millions needed in the years to come to maintain the facility.

These facts scream for competitive bidding for the contract, as recommended by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor for services of this amount. But the Council whipped through the no-bid contract as written with only a promise by Killen to step up fundraising.

Smith went nowhere with his idea in part because he hit a nerve by suggesting the city would act more responsibly in asking for greater cost-sharing for a capital expenditure. This hint that past city policy-makers have spent too freely to taxpayer detriment triggered Montgomery, who typically takes very personally any aspersions that he hasn’t been God’s gift to the city, into his tiresome loudmouth-at-the-end-of-the-bar routine that asserts the fiction that he and the other graybeards – count in Republican Jeff Free as well for nearly the past decade – haven’t spent frivolously and unwisely with Exhibit #1 being (according to the most recent 2021 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report although with payments throughout 2022 the figure has gone down a small amount) city debt of $457 million (with interest, $585 million) or per capita of about $7,300, almost six and ten times higher than the similarly size cities of Kenner and Lake Charles, respectively.

To this fiscal mismanagement into perspective, had the city had just half the debt level it has, and thereby paid half the interest and principal that it has due this year – excluding debt on water and sewerage and other enterprise activities – the city would be $10.5 million flusher, allowing for property tax cuts of two thirds, making these just half the level of Kenner and Lake Charles. Keep in mind this doesn’t even include earnings derived from nearly $32 million held in a trust fund from monies collected from gaming activities prior to 1999 that routinely annually sends millions to subsidize other money-losing “quality of life” cases such as the Brookshires Grocery Arena.

Instead, this money went to baubles like the Tennis Center that lets the likes of Montgomery spin fables about “quality of life” due to his alleged munificence that convey few benefits for few at high cost for most. And residents will pay for this for the next quarter-century instead of being allowed to keep more of what they earn and/or improve provision of other city services, all to facilitate a few sweetheart deals and to feed councilor egos.

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