by Elliott Stonecipher
Saturday is election day, and included on the very short ballot in Caddo Parish are two issues from and by the Parish Commission. I wrote on September 17th about one of those two – the outrageous proposition to expand the term limits of Commissioners to 5 terms, or 20 years – and have since learned much more about the second of the two proposals. It is clear from my conversations with early voters that the “NO” lever is the favorite for both.
Government Never, Ever, Ever Has Enough Money?
Thanks to the three Caddo Commissioners with whom I have spoken and/or exchanged emails, I have learned much more about the second proposition than the Commission as a whole has shared with voters. The proposal appears on the ballot as a 1.75-mill property tax to fund a $23,390,000 bond for 20-years. The ballot language defines its purpose as:
… constructing, acquiring and/or improving (i) roads, streets and bridges, (ii) drains and drainage facilities, (iii) public buildings and facilities and (iv) parks and recreational facilities, including acquiring all necessary land, equipment and furnishings for any of said public works, improvements and facilities …
The only problem with the proposition is that the Caddo Parish Commission does not need the money, and that’s putting it mildly. The Commission is sitting on $87,000,000 in near-liquid reserves in two different trust funds, one which takes 8-of-12 Commission votes to raid, and the other which requires 7-of-12 votes. These overflowing coffers of our money are due in large part to Haynesville Shale revenue, a windfall if there ever was one for many area governments.
For a bit of context, the Commission’s $87,000,000 in named reserves may be compared to Shreveport’s current $1,000,000.
(Shreveport’s financial mismanagement and resulting brokeness drives the notion among some Commissioners – presumably those intending to move over to elected positions in city government – that the Commission should begin paying for city services. Imagine it: Shreveport taxpayers would thus be paying for city financial maladministration twice, as if once isn’t already too much.)
Also not shared with voters is the fact that the Commission’s money pile specifically set aside for the infrastructure needs at issue has an additional recurring balance of some $15,000,000. One source – and none of them cared to be quoted on these points – notes that parish road paving and other maintenance stays 100% up-to-date in Caddo, with roads reworked every 10 years. Elsewhere, I am told, a 15-18 year repaving of any given road is the norm. (These are roads “belonging” to the parish, not state or federal roads and highways within the parish.)
Responsible (Taxing) Officials Do Not Pay the Taxes They Levy or Raise
On top of the basic fact that this new tax is unnecessary, some of us find it particularly galling that many of those involved in keeping our property taxes the highest in the state do not even live here. Thus, they do not pay the taxes they are so often responsible for or otherwise involved in raising.
In the case of the Caddo Commission, this matter of taxers having “no skin in the game” is particularly notable. Given that there was no real need for the Commission to again levy this proposed millage, and since there was no specific plan to use the resulting money for some new and necessary parish expense, the person most directly responsible – Parish Administrator Woody Wilson – went to department directors and asked them for “wish lists” of projects to include should the millage be renewed. As revealing as that is, we should also note that while Wilson easily comes up with such taxes for us to pay, he does not pay them. He pays his taxes (we assume) to Bossier government, where he lives. Likewise, the same Commission source informs me, at least two of the department directors – Everett Harris, Director of Animal & Mosquito Control, and Kevin Lawrence, Director of Facilities & Maintenance – also live and pay their taxes to and for Bossier government.
In fairness, top administrators living outside the parish is apparently approved by the Commission, but that makes the overall point even more strongly: this is yet another governmental group with no respect for those who pay the bulk of taxes in Shreveport and Caddo Parish. As is the case with the many other taxing entities here, disproportionately high taxes are ignored. So, when city and parish officials express wonder with our stagnant population numbers since 1980, such is hooey. The fact of no general population growth, and an alarming future decline in the number of those who can and will pay these taxes, continues to generate no official concern, much less response.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that given the natural, geological gift of Haynesville Shale, the Caddo Commission’s Standard & Poor’s bond rating is AAA. (Some Commission folks say “AAA+,” but there is no such municipal bond rating category.) We thank Mother Nature for the gift, and the Commission for not (yet?) squandering it. The point is, however, no source I have found states or even suggests that allowing this 1.75-mill tax to expire, as it should, in any way endangers that rating.
When I pay property taxes on my Shreveport home in a couple of months, I will pay a total millage of 175.06-mills. Included will be 31 different property tax millages. Please vote “NO” on this proposition Saturday so the tax-notice listing of our many individual property taxes will not soon require two pages. Should a second page be required, we will need to pay for all that paper, and associated costs. We can then brace for a new “Extraordinary Parish Paper Needs” millage of an estimated 0.80-mills, 0.0001-mill for paper, plus 0.7999-mills for paper storage, transportation, and intergovernmental administration of the new tax.
Elliott Stonecipher’s reports and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the unedited sharing of his work is requested and appreciated.