It’s a good question, and the answer probably depends on who you ask. 0 The defeat by Caddo voters of four Parish wide tax renewals last Saturday was certainly a slap in the face to the Caddo Commission.
Proposition No. 1 was a .83 mills renewal for maintaining and operating 14 parish parks, public roads, garbage disposal, and drainage facilities. This millage expires in 2018 and it was projected to bring in $1.48 million a year. This proposition failed by a mere 16 votes.
Proposition No. 2 was a .87 mills renewal to operate public health units, mosquito control and the animal shelter. This proposition failed by 117 votes and it was to fund $1.55 million per year. This millage expires in 2020.
Proposition No. 3 was for 1.97 mills to fund the Caddo juvenile court and the various juvenile court programs. This failed by 299 votes. The projected income from this millage was $3.5 million and this millage expires in 2021.
Proposition No. 4 was for 2.72 mils to operate the Caddo courthouse. This failed by a 892 votes. This millage generates $4.82 million and it expires in 2021.
The tax renewals were endorsed by the Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, The Committee of 100, and the Northwest Louisiana Economic Partnership. Additionally, a local political action committee (PAC) funded numerous media buys pushing the renewal.
Unlike the defeat of the Caddo Parish School Board bond package in 2015, there was no parish wide organized group urging defeat of the renewals. In north Caddo a "No" campaign was spearheaded by a local resident and various bloggers throughout the parish opposed the renewals. Additionally, the Caddo Republican Party took a "no" vote position.
The reality is that the Caddo Commission has a poor public perception and in the world of politics perception IS reality. Initially, voters are becoming weary of special elections that increase the costs to the public and which virtually ensure dismal voter turnout. And to add insult to injury, none of the taxes expired this year; voters perceived the early vote as a money grab.
Many Caddo voters are concerned with self-dealing by Commissioners, and they identify the subsidized health insurance and the retirement plan (CPERS) that seven of the twelve current Commissioners enjoyed. Additionally Commissioners received a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to their salaries each time they voted a COLA for parish employees and that’s the reason the salary of Commissioners is the highest in Louisiana for a part-time elected officials. (To its credit, the Commission voted in January of last year to end the subsidized health insurance, the CPERS and COLA raises)
Taxpayers are also concerned about the travel expenses of many of the current Commissioners and they remember the excessive travel expenses by former Commissioners. Additionally the fact that Commissioners get two tickets to the Skybox at the Independence Bowl in exchange for the Commissioners $50,000 sponsorship strikes many voters as more wallet padding by this elected body.
The Caddo Animal Shelter has drawn criticism by animal activists for the past several years and this vocal dedicated group is still unhappy with the operations of the shelter. The tax election provided a ready opportunity for those concerned About the shelter to send a message to the Commission.
Another bone of contention to voters is the purchase of the GM plant by the Commission’ the lease of the facility to Stuart Lichter , and the failed promise of Elio Motors coming to Shreveport. Elio has proven to be a joke, if not a scam, and the authority given to Lichter to sell the plant assets has created a dark cloud of suspicion that, rightly or wrongly, the Commission can not dodge.
No doubt the overall taxes paid by Caddo property owners, which is one the highest if not the highest in Louisiana, is becoming more and more a concern to voters who more than ready to vote "NO" on any tax issue—renewal or not. This reality should be a concern to the Commission, The Caddo Parish School Board and the Shreveport Council.
The current Commission has taken many actions to show more fiscal responsibility but most observers believe the belt-tightening should be increased. In the mean time, what steps the Commission will to earn more credibility with Caddo voters is a story yet to be told.