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Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023

Mayor’s Notebook


Unexpected challenges, exceptional support cited

Every new job seems to bring certain “other duties as assigned” – those surprises that come up before you even get acclimated to the new chair. As it turns out, the mayor of Shreveport is no exception.

As Shreveport Mayor Tom Arceneaux took over the office, it was discovered that there were some ad valorem taxes that should have been on the ballot for renewal last year but were not. The revenue from those six millages amounts to almost $12 million annually.

“It funds things like police and fire uniforms, the basic funding for SPAR, the funding for a three-platoon police system,” Arceneaux said. “These were not new taxes when they were renewed the last time,” he said.

Arceneaux said the administration plans to put proposals to reauthorize those millages on the ballot in April. They must be reauthorized since they expired without being renewed.

“They are taxes people paid in 2022,” Arceneaux explained. “We are asking them to pay for five years, which was the term of the last renewal. We’re not asking for any additional time, and we’re not asking for any additional millage than what people paid in 2022. But that’s a very important issue.”

He said that if those millages do not pass, the city would have to cut that $12 million from the 2023 budget.

“We would have preferred that they had been up for renewal before this year,” Arceneaux said. “But we think we can get those on the ballot, and we are hopeful that the people will approve it.”

In the zone

Another unexpected issue that has presented itself involves tickets being issued to vehicles in school zones from a new camera system installed to enforce the school zones.

The previous administration entered into a contract with Blue Line Solutions, a company that provides photo speed enforcement services designed to streamline ticketing and collections for police. The current administration has fielded complaints from drivers who have been ticketed during the new system’s rollout.

“We’ve had quite a firestorm of complaints,” the mayor said. “Some of the complaints are that we do it at all. Some of the complaints are, ‘I got a ticket while school was out.’ ‘The school zone wasn’t in effect when I got a ticket.’ A various number of things. A large, large number of complaints.”

Arceneaux said the administration is evaluating the system and speaking with the chief of police, the city engineer, the department of public works and others to improve and refine the process to enforce school zones better.

“We’re looking at things like reducing the time periods, tying the time periods to specific school zones as opposed to having a uniform time period, and then better supervision from the police department and from Blue Line in terms of reviewing these tickets,” he said.

Tickets issued by the system are not criminal citations, Arceneaux explained. They are civil, administrative fees, which is why they are issued to the owner of the vehicle as opposed to a particular defendant. The ticket revenue is split, with the city receiving 65 percent and Blue Line receiving 35 percent.

Arceneaux said the city’s share of the revenue from tickets already generated from the system is about $350,000.

“A very large number of tickets,” he said. “I don’t think anybody anticipated that there would be this number of tickets. A number of the tickets are valid. A number of them are not valid. What we are trying to do is work with them and come up with something going forward that is going to more closely mirror what would happen if there was a police officer there.”

The system is designed to replace the need for an officer to monitor and enforce school zones, a benefit when the Shreveport Police Department is short about 130 police officers, Arceneaux said.

Arceneaux said the city could terminate the contract, but there is a penalty of $70,000 for each of the system’s 20 locations in the city. That penalty is prorated over the course of three years. But it would cost the city $1.4 million to terminate the contract at this point.

That’s “a very significant disincentive to terminate the contract,” Arceneaux said. “We’re looking at ways to make the program more palatable to the general public.” In other news …

Arceneaux said the rest of the transition has been smooth for his administration. He attributes some of that to experienced people who assisted, including interim Chief Administrative Officer Tom Dark.

“Having Tom Dark, who is a former CAO, has been an enormous help,” the mayor said. “He knows how to do the budget. He understands all the processes. He’s been a department head. He’s been the CAO. From that standpoint, we stepped in about as prepared as you could be.”

Arceneaux said the city is in the process of advertising for a permanent chief financial officer and chief administrative officer and hiring a city attorney.

Arceneaux also has executive office staff in place, including Special Advisor to the Mayor Tara Bradford and DeShayne Hall, Arceneaux’s confidential secretary.

“Tari and DeShayne have been here for two weeks,” he said. “We’ve developed a good esprit de corps, and I think that’s working very well.”

The administration is evaluating the 2023 budget. Arcenaux said his office’s budget would be smaller than what is allotted in the budget because he will have a smaller executive office staff than previous administrations.

“We’re looking at various priorities,” he said. “How can we take that money and more effectively enforce litter, put more property standards inspections in the process and do a better job of cleaning up the city,” he said. “Those are the three things we are trying to work at short term.”

He anticipates presenting some budget amendments to the general operating fund in April to reflect new priorities.

“For example, there are COVIDrelated funds from the federal government,” he said. “We’re trying to locate where those are, how much of those are remaining and make some recommendations to the council.”

Overall, Arceneaux said he is bolstered by the support his administration has received during the transition.

“I’ve been very encouraged by the encouragement people have gotten,” he said. “They seem to have a sense of renewal and a sense that they are very happy to go in a different direction. My guess is some of that happens with every new administration. So I don’t attribute that as much to me as I might to the fact that I am the new face. There are people who are very hopeful that the things we thought we could bring about we actually can bring about. It’s up to me to sustain that hope.”


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