Bossier City needs to extend its privatization success experienced in water, sewerage, and waste.
Earlier this month, the city received good news that its water customers had saved $6 million over the past two years. In 2016, the city contracted with Manchac Consulting Group to run its water and sewerage systems, while the city still owns the infrastructure.
This came on the heels of years of inefficient operation by the city, which led to needless rate hikes. In 2013, the city began extricating itself from part of this dynamic when it let go of a long-time agreement with Shreveport for solid waste pickup, finally understanding the private sector could perform that more inexpensively.
But it also then cued up the latest fee increase on water and sewerage, which consultants said would last for years. It did – for all of three. Faced with continuing escalating costs, another rate hike, which would have made for a pair during the terms of the City Council and Mayor Lo Walker, would have exacted a heavy electoral toll. Once again under the gun, these politicians opted for the same privatization solution. And it paid off and continues to do so, with city on track to save more than $2 million in 2018. All incumbents who ran managed to win reelection in 2017, including Walker.
Not only did elected officials and ratepayers come out ahead, so did Manchac. Across the river, it has endured a wave of negative publicity consequent to an attempt to raid Shreveport city finances. A couple of members of the former Mayor Keith Hightower Administration had sued the city for allegedly reneging on a deal to correct water billing errors, an effort that current city officials likened to “blackmail” and “extortion.”
With the officials additionally sued over that terminology, courts ruled against the plaintiffs on both that and the original suit. But, embarrassingly, Manchac official Justin Haydel’s name was on an agreement to split the proceeds of the “finder’s fee.” Manchac did not participate in either suit.
Bossier City has a long history of pumping public dollars into performing functions best left to the private sector, including operating Bossier Medical Center (eventually sold for much less than it could have been because the city hung onto it out of pride), building a parking garage for the private owner of Bossier Boardwalk that went through bankruptcy, and plunking down tens of millions of dollars on the high-tech office building the Cyber Innovation Center that has fallen woefully short on its projections for job and tax revenue creation.
Yet the biggest white elephant is the money-losing CenturyLink Center, into which the city recently poured more money after imposing a new fee onto ticket-buyers. It has lost millions over the decades, although only around $300,000 last year.
Now with city investment in it approaching $70 million, more than ever Bossier City needs to get out of the hosting business. The refurbishment should come as a prelude to selling it and cutting taxpayer losses.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer or this newspaper.