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Monday, March 16, 2015

A Better Bossier

Breaking down the funding options


Over the last few weeks, the Bossier Parish Police Jury’s transportation projects and plans have been the subject of this space, and they will continue in this Forum.

It occurs to me, however, that an inherent limiting factor in attempting to share a visit with District 3 Juror Wanda Bennett, administrator Bill Altimus, and engineers Butch Ford and Bruce Easterly is that Bossier Parish residents couldn’t be around that table to hear the dedication and commitment of these people to building a vastly better Bossier. They’re consistently thinking about how to improve the parish’s infrastructure. More important, they’re consistently looking for the funding to pay for those improvements.

As previously noted, the parish has plans to extend the north-south corridor’s Swan Lake Road, as well as Winfield (east-west) and Wafer Roads, and plans to acquire the right-of-way necessary to extend the parish’s work on Arthur Ray Teague south to Taylortown. That’s a short road plan list.

But before any of these projects, the parish is responsible for maintaining hundreds of miles of parish roads, along with the cost of maintenance and sometimes replacement of the parish’s 100-plus bridges.

Local revenues are fairly limited. Bossier Parish collects a 1.5 percent sales tax dedicated to the highway department, which generates an average $7 million per year. The sales tax is collected outside of parish municipalities. The parish also collects a 2.01 mill property tax that generates about $1.8 million per year. Other funds include roughly $825,000 a year from the Louisiana fuel tax, and severances taxes collected by the parish. But the parish’s highway department operating, equipment and asphalt budgets – without all the planned projects – currently run about $7.3 million annually. So that doesn’t leave much for projects like the Swan Lake Road Extension, projected to cost roughly $23-27 million.

“We try to tap into every source that’s available to help,” Ford said.

As noted in an earlier column, Altimus used the Swan Lake Road Extension as an example of tapping those possible sources, saying the parish had received roughly $7 million from the federal government, which paid for all the environmental work on this project and the Winfield and Wafer

Road projects, but federal funding has generally dried up. The parish set aside funds for what would have been the 20 percent match along with a state capital outlay allocation of $600,000. Another source is likely the Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments, which receives funds for local projects.

On the other hand, the cost of the parish’s southern extension of Arthur Ray Teague was bonded, and annual debt service runs just over $1 million annually.

The Swan Lake Road Extension project will become a reality, as will the parish’s other planned transportation improvements – but Altimus cautions that those major projects will take the jury’s continued diligence in seeking out additional funding.

It’s much the same for funding bridge maintenance and replacements.

Ford said the parish participates in the Off System Bridge Program – in which a mix of federal and state funding assists parishes to replace or repair parish bridges. Participation requires meeting certain criteria and operates on a two-year cycle. Although Bossier Parish didn’t receive funds in the current cycle, previous awards have contributed to the replacement and repairs to such as Parks Road Bridge, Dogwood Trail and Caplis-Sligo Bridge.

That funding is also providing $1.2 million for replacement of the Koran- Doyline Bridge. But Ford has a list of bridges that need major repair or replacement, including the Linton-Black Bayou Bridge and Sligo-Foxskin Bridge, to name only a few.

Ford said the police jury cannot rely on the Off System Bridge Program to meet all the parish’s funding needs in this area – and the jury will need to have a program of its own.

In the meantime, Ford is a meticulous budgeter/planner whose long-range highway department and special projects overview extends to 2024. In keeping with the jury’s general budgeting practice, Ford’s overview is conservative – he plans for flat income, but increases expenses across the next 10 years. While it’s unlikely that the parish’s transportation revenues derived from sales and property taxes will remain flat, it’s a fair certainty that the costs of road maintenance and construction, along with taking care of the parish’s bridges will consistently increase.

But this recent visit with Bossier Parish Police Jury representatives and staff makes an important point – in the area of transportation improvements, the jury’s planning and projects will both encourage and accommodate the parish’s rapid growth. Some of that growth will result in moderate revenue stream increases. At the same time, the cost of these projects will increase every year. If residents are interested in seeing consistent improvements, the future calls for a continuing discussion with the Bossier Parish Police Jury to determine and support sources to fund those desired improvements.

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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