When the city coffers are overflowing with bucks, its relatively “easy” to be a Shreveport elected official. But alas, this is not the case.
Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins inherited a city budget passed in the last days of the Tyler administration. Three of the current council members voted for this budget: Jerry Bowman, Jr.; Willie Bradford; and James Flurry. The 2019 city budget was balanced by utilizing $5 million of unspent 2018 funds, i.e. reserves.
The sanitation workers pay issue was carried over from the Tyler days. The economic demands of the Environmental Protection Agency consent decree have been ongoing since 2014.
The complaints over water billing are largely due to the scheduled increases passed by the last council to pay for the consent decree work. Other problems are from water meters purchased in years past and questions about the computation calculations that arose last year.
Sherika Field-Jones was the assistant Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) when the Tyler budgets were prepared. She worked directly for then CAO Brian Crawford. After his resignation she served as Tyler’s temporary CAO at the time the 2019 budget was finally adopted. This was after extended budget discussions while Crawford was on board, and tweaks by the council
The proposed Clean City User fee and the ongoing discussion over a proposed garbage fee are the direct result of upfront disclosures by Perkins administration. These include the $8.5 million subsidy of the sanitation department out of the city’s general fund, the current reserves of $3.1 million and the need for reserves of at least $15 million, if not $18 million. Add to this the fact that most cities charge for garbage pick up.
The reaction by many citizens and council members has been “to shoot the messenger.”
In the perfect world, time would be suspended to allow the mayor , the council and the public to have a thorough review of the 2019 budget and revenue estimates. And during this interval to have all city spending and legislative actions necessary to run the city held in a limbo. Unfortunately, the “time standing still” wand is missing.
If the Council wants to have budget cuts, then legislation needs to be introduced. This could be across the board department budget reductions of a specified sum or percentage. This could also be a hiring freeze. It could be both.
But before taking action, a consensus needs to be determined. Is this just for sanitation worker pay raises? Is it to bolster city reserves? What will be the impact of cuts and/or a hiring freeze on the delivery of municipal services and compliance with the consent decree? And who will be the first to identify, and then kill the “sacred cows” in the budget?
The council has also delayed the approval of a top level engineer job position to monitor the $100 million to be spent each year to comply with the consent decrees. This after an extended briefing on the costs and extensive remediation of the consent decree.
Although council members have fretted for 2 months on the city’s poor financial condition, they approved funding and city assistance for a local festival. These moneys are to be repaid, if the event is successful.
The conflicting messages sent by the council are beginning to outweigh the uproar over the switch of insurance agents by the mayor. And it certainly diminishes the complaints by the “new three” (Levette Fuller, John Nichelson, and Grayson Boucher) about the actions/inaction of the Perkins administration.
The next council meeting on Mar.26 should indeed be interesting , if for no other reason that votes should be taken on the garbage fee. And council members may find themselves the subject of citizen complaints that have primarily been directed to the mayor.
There are no easy solutions. But continued inaction does not address any objectives. Neither does rock throwing, wringing of hands and other protestations. As the calendar days pass by, more of the budget is being spent by the city. The sanitation workers are still grossly underpaid and the city reserves remain static.
DISCLAIMER: John Settle is assisting with the Future of Shreveport initiative of Mayor Adrian Perkins.