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Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019

Red Flags On Bond Issue

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Can we trust messy City Hall infrastructure with all this money?

Do you ever have a hunch or gut feeling? Where you are convinced, almost instantly, by feelings that you cannot always explain? Some folks call this intuition, which comes from the Latin word “intueri,” meaning “knowledge from within.” These are the times when we just “know” in our hearts and souls, irrespective of our five senses, that something feels right or feels wrong. Like choosing a spouse, or accepting a job offer, or even voting in an election.

But is this rationalization process preventing us from making good, intuitive decisions? This was a question addressed in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Blink,” and Gladwell says, yes, it certainly does. He explains that “we have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for.”

And this certainly is true for many voters when it comes to the $186 million bond election on Saturday, Nov. 16. For many voters, the lack of details about exactly how the bond funds will be doled out, for example, has left huge gaps in their “story,” as they try to explain why they may be supporting (or opposing) this bond initiative.

Now for most folks, a confused mind will almost always say “no.” And many feel Mayor Perkins proposed too large of a bond, with too many projects and too little accountability for enough voters to say “yes.” There’s simply too much confusion over how this many projects could be administered and so much money managed by the same City Hall infrastructure that continues to overbill its customers for water and sewer services. One that also chose to change insurance agents and now pays twice as much for onehalf the insurance coverage; and that an independent auditor recently found that “the city has commitments beyond which it has current resources to fund its obligations.”

Some have filled in these “gaps” with vague assertions and loose connections of how borrowing this $186 million now will “address Shreveport’s most critical needs” and “improve public safety” and “repair our roads.”

But wait a minute. What’s kept City Hall from doing all of that already – with the $510 million annual budget it already has?

And yes – that’s right, do the math – with a $510 million annual budget, the city spends nearly $1.4 million every single day, and the result? According to the most recent city audit, City Hall mismanagement has created a negative net worth of more than $1 billion for our city.

If you didn’t already know that, did you know that Shreveport spends well over $2,600 per citizen and that by comparison, a city like Memphis only spends $946 per citizen? Does that mean those in Shreveport enjoy city services that are nearly three times better or more plentiful than those in Memphis? Most likely not, but we should know the answer to that question before rushing into borrowing $186 million, right?

And did you know passing this bond proposition will double our city’s current general obligation bond debt? Did you know that the city’s debt service alone eats up 35 percent of all city expenditures every year?

Do you know why SPAR spent nearly $7 million on “administration” costs last year, and yet, didn’t make any of the critical Convention Center repairs – even though there’s already $3 million in this year’s budget to do so? Why does the city need more money from a bond to do what they could have done already, but simply haven’t? Especially when we’re subsidizing the Convention Center at the cost of $1.7 million each year?

And is this bond really needed right now to upgrade our “our aging water infrastructure” when there’s already over $700 million in capital improvement projects budgeted in 2020, specifically for water and sewer projects (especially when there is no specific list of what upgrades will actually be provided)?

Do you know why the mayor insists this bond will “repair our roads” when there’s already over $90 million budgeted in 2020 for street improvements, and yet the road projects we already have lingered for months, and sometimes years, without completion?

And don’t you want to know how much in fees the city intends to pay the municipal bond advisor (RSI Group, LLC, of Little Rock, Ark.) for their assistance with issuing the bonds? Or how much Boles Shafto, LLC (located in Monroe), and Washington & Wells, LLC (located in Shreveport) will collect in legal fees out of the bond proceeds?

Of course you do because all of these questions (above) raise “red flags.” That something in your “gut” that tells you something isn’t quite right, even though everything appears fine on the outside.

This is where most Shreveporters are on this bond: It’s not that they don’t see what the money from the bond could be used for. They do.

But for so many, all they see are the “red flags” – and how it’ll take more than just promises for them to see anything else.

Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of “Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great.” He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in The Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at louisavallone@mac.com, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.

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