by Elliott Stonecipher
As many readers know, I spend a great deal of my time helping Shreveport and Caddo Parish residents understand just how relatively – and damagingly – high are our taxes. As a result, and I’m understating the case, I’ve met with extraordinary resistance from a majority of directly responsible public officials.
Such facts of our life here are better kept hidden according to these chiefs, which is precisely how we have become our state and region’s taxation capital. The main culprit is property taxes which cost Shreveporters two-to-three times as much as property owners in other cities in Louisiana and our surrounding region. Now rapidly moving up this list of high costs of living here are utility rates and taxes added to those bills.
Most notably, Shreveport water and sewer rates rose 13% and 55%, respectively, in 2013. Between this year and 2022, the water rates will rise at least another 12%, and sewer rates by at least another 61%. (Details from City Hall here.)
As taxes, utility, and other unique costs of living here increase, the count of available taxpayers has dramatically decreased.
When our local and state economy collapsed in 1986 along with the oil price, out-migration of residents shifted into high gear. Although the 1986 Shreveport population number is not officially available, it is for Caddo Parish, and eight-of-ten Caddoans live in Shreveport. Since 1986, our parish population has dropped -12,050, from 264,653 to 252,603.
Honest public officials will compare Caddo’s -4.6% population drop since 1986 to a +38.8% increase in Lafayette Parish, the then-epicenter, many believe, of that broad economic collapse.
Thus far unable to grow our population, particularly of taxpayers, government has consistently taken care of itself by raising taxes, plus fees which are effectively taxes. As all else stagnates, government does the opposite. As a result, over the past three decades, Caddo Parish property taxes have risen 10.6-times the total assessed value of all parish property, a multiple three-to-six times higher than in other Louisiana cities. (SEE data here.)
With those facts as background, let’s take a specific look at how willing Shreveport officials are to tax us.
The Anatomy of a New Shreveport Tax
Newly elected Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler and five-of-seven City Council members acted two weeks ago to raise the “franchise fee” – tax – we pay on our natural gas bills from CenterPoint Energy.
Stunningly, the impending tax increase, now set to rise from 2% to 4.5%, is directly opposed by CenterPoint. In her reporting on the matter two weeks ago, Alexandria Burris of The Times notes (emphases are mine):
“Brad Tutunjian, CenterPoint’s regional vice president, said he never discussed a franchise fee increase with anyone in former-Mayor Cedric Glover’s administration. Discussions didn’t start until Mayor Ollie Tyler took office. The new administration communicated there were budget concerns but didn’t explain what those were, he said. The franchise expired in March. Tyler’s administration had proposed increasing CenterPoint’s franchise fee to 5 percent for a period of 25 years. The council, instead, approved a 4.5 percent franchise fee for a 10-year period – much to CenterPoint’s dismay.”
The Official Minutes of the subject City Council meeting show just how willing are Mayor Ollie Tyler and a majority of the City Council to keep digging in Shreveport’s cavernous tax hole, if not would-be grave.
(Minutes here, Ordinance No. 32 of 2015. Scroll to browser Pages 7-9.)
As forwarded by ex-mayor Cedric Glover to Mayor Tyler in the proposed city budget, the pols set the CenterPoint tax increase for a jump from 2% to 5% … for 25 years. Tyler sent it to the Council that way, CenterPoint’s opposition notwithstanding. Before a vote on that intended tax jump, Councilman Oliver Jenkins offered an amendment to keep the tax at 2% for 10 years.
Put more directly, Oliver Jenkins tried to kill the increase straight out of the shoot. Only Councilman Corbin voted with him, and the five voting to go forward with the Tyler / Glover increase from 2% to 5% for 25 years were:
Democrat Jeff Everson
Democrat Willie Bradford
Democrat Stephanie Lynch
Democrat Jerry Bowman
Republican James Flurry
After attempts by Councilmen Jenkins and Corbin to whittle-down the tax increase, Flurry, perhaps as he remembered which political party he represents, offered the finally agreed upon version: 4.5%, for 10 years.
The deal, though, is not yet done. CenterPoint will not agree to more than a 4% tax on its bills to customers, but pressure from Tyler and the Council majority to take even more money from Shreveporters now puts on the table an increase in gas rates rather than the franchise tax the City is pushing. Oliver Jenkins notes,
“… (that) would burden the citizens with the equivalent of an approximately 8-10% franchise fee rolled into the rate. … this additional revenue would go to the city … ”
Jenkins also notes that there has been “no specific dedication” of the final money grab from citizens, i.e., City Hall is taking it from us because they can … period. Based on last year’s take by city officials of $915,620 from the 2% tax on CenterPoint customers, the new tax will generate about $2.25 million each year.
It will be difficult to scare many locals with this expected $15 annual tax for an average gas bill payer. More to the point, though, is that it is a tax increase on which no citizen spoke for or against, and is being raised with the subject utility company loudly opposed.
The old political saw for decades among suspect pols was, “If it twitches, tax it!!” Here and now, a majority of our officials don’t even give it a chance to twitch.
(Elliott Stonecipher is in no way affiliated with any political party. He has no client or other relationships which in any way influence his selections of subjects or the content of any article. His work is strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is appreciated.)