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Monday, March 2, 2015

Funding Woes

Jury itching to improve capital projects

“We plan for the future, for the next generation,” Wanda Bennett, District 3 Bossier Parish Police Juror, said in a wide ranging discussion about the jury’s work earlier this month.

If there is an award for governmental long range planning, the Bossier Parish Police Jury would surely be a contender for recognition. As suggested in my last column, the jury’s longterm transportation and infrastructure planning is a heavy contributor to Bossier Parish’s continuing growth.

But equally important in the jury’s success in significant parish infrastructure improvements is the ability to find funding from sources other than the jury’s budget as noted below. And that’s a consideration for Bossier Parish residents to keep in mind for the future of those improvements.

Parish Engineer Butch Ford arrives at our visit about transportation and infrastructure issues armed with those plans. Picking up where we left off two weeks ago, Ford said he works closely with Parish Administrator Bill Altimus and Parish Treasurer Sheryl Thomas on budget forecasting to plan capital improvement projects.

Project plans currently span a chart running through 2024 – and include yearly costs of operations, the amount of asphalt to be purchased, equipment purchased annually, concrete and drainage repairs, bridges and the debt service on the south extension of Arthur Ray Teague Parkway.

“This type of budgeting and forecasting is what we use to determine which projects we’re going to do over the next three years,” Ford said.

Ford ticked off where the jury stands on current and recently completed capital projects – which aren’t all transportation related.

The Kingston Road widening project is underway with costs shared by the Bossier Parish School Board, the Kingston Crossing Apartments developer, the jury and Bossier City – for the near $2 million project. Last year the jury completed improvements to Wimple Road from Airline Drive to Cross Creek, a $1.1 million project, and has scheduled the next step of the project for this year – to Lakewood Subdivision – a $1.8 million project. These projects are in addition to those listed here two weeks ago.

Another aspect of the jury’s transportation work came at Ford’s recommendation to improve the parish’s road bases. Altimus said Ford’s extensive knowledge of soils and asphalt composition, along with his previous state Department of Transportation and Development work and experience with a private testing company convinced the jury to undertake this soil cementing process to extend the life of parish roads.

“No one around here was doing that,” Altimus said. “It increases the original cost of redoing or doing a road from what we were used to. [But] this action has really increased the life expectancy of the roads from what we experienced in the past with the added plus of being able to take a beating from the weight and vast number of loads experienced due to the gas boom.”

Drainage improvements are another area of parish capital improvement. Presently underway, the Eastwood- Merrywoods drainage project in Haughton is being funded in large part by a statewide flood control program grant – while a $350,000 Louisiana Community Development Block Grant is making possible the jury’s assistance to the small community of East Benton to finally have real sewer service. The jury will see to the construction aspect; the town of Benton will treat the sewerage.

Although roads long have been the focus of the jury’s capital improvement concerns and projects (and more recently, the construction of a utility system), Ford said the jury’s focus is now turning to bridges.

“We can spend up to $150,000 on a bridge doing maintenance work,” Ford said. “But our bridges are getting older and they need to be replaced. We’ve identified around 10 bridges that are long, old bridges that are going to need to be replaced over the next seven or eight years.”

He said the parish has contracted with a consulting firm to assist with what’s likely to be a major and costly long-term project.

Ford said Bossier Parish has 116 bridges – 100 of which the parish maintains, and many of which the parish has replaced with the funding assistance of the federal Off-System Bridge Program.

But the larger bridges in need of replacement may pose something of a funding challenge as the program’s current funding cycle doesn’t include Bossier Parish. That’s a concern for Ford who explained to jurors in the last budget session that the jury can’t depend on the federal program funding in the future.

The jury will need to have a program of its own.

So that brings us to more on the bridge issue, along with review on just how the jury’s capital improvement budget has been funded, as well as outside funding that may or may not be available in the future in the next issue of Forum.

Marty Carlson, a freelance writer, has been covering local news for the past 17 years. She can be reached via email at martycarlson1218@ gmail.com.


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