Fears of an impending apocalypse were unfounded, but it was still an eventful year in Bossier Parish
The year began with fears that it would end with an apocalypse, due to the Mayan's thousand-year-old calendar running out. While there were no fireworks for doomsdayers, there were plenty of other goings on in 2012.
National elections, the London Olympics, hurricanes, and a tragic shooting in connecticut all made world and U.S. headlines. Meanwhile, there was plenty to talk about in Bossier, too.
Below, we listed some of the biggest stories locally:
Obama elected to second term
Democratic President Barack Obama defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney in national elections Nov. 6.
"We're all in this together. That's how we campaigned," Obama said to his supporters via the social media website Twitter. "This happened because of you. Thank you."
His victories in other swing states of Ohio, Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Colorado and Iowa sealed the presidency. Romney supporters cheered a win in North Carolina, which Obama captured four years ago, but it was a rare win.
Romney called the President shortly before midnight on Nov. 7 to concede defeat. He then took the stage at the Boston-based Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel to address his supporters not long after. "This is a time of great challenges for America and I pray the president will be successful in guiding our nation," said Romney. "The nation is at a critical point. At this time we can't risk partisanship bickering," he added. "We need to reach across the aisle." Democrats also held their narrow majority in the Senate and grabbing GOP seats in Massachusetts and Indiana and turning aside Republican challenges in Virginia and Ohio.
Republicans however retained control of the House, dividing Congress in what will be Obama's second term. With almost two thirds of the chamber's 435 races called, Republicans had won 173 seats and were leading in 58 others. The GOP had also picked up three open seats that had been held by Democrats who are leaving Congress.
Local elections decide mayors, police chiefs, judge
Nov. 6 was also election day for Bossier with Benton Mayor Wayne Cathcart, Benton Police Chief Charles Pilkinton and Haughton Police Chief Rodney Farrington all seeing re-election. U.S. Rep. John Fleming won re-election to a third term as northwest Louisiana’s representative in Congress. Fleming (R) defeated opponent Randall Lord, a Libertarian from Shreveport, in the race for the 4th District seat.
Cathcart claimed four more years as the mayor of Benton with 76 percent of the total votes, according to the Louisiana Secretary of State website.
“Because I am backed by the town of Benton, we can get some things done together,” Cathcart said. “I am going to give 100-percent of myself to this town. I am humbled that the citizens have entrusted me with this responsibility.” Benton Police Chief Charles Pilkinton won the election with 74-percent of the votes. Also winning re-election was Haughton Police Chief Rodney Farrington, who clinched 71-percent of the votes Tuesday night.
The 26th Judicial District Judge race resulted in a runoff on Dec. 8 with Bossier Parish Assistant District Attorney Mike Nerren defeating attorney Whit Graves 53.54 to 46.46 percent. In the general election, Nerren won 40-percent of the vote while Graves took 31-percent of votes. Judge John Slattery finished the election with 29-percent of the votes.
In other local elections, the Town of Plain Dealing elected Wiley Robinson to fill their mayoral seat with a 71-percent vote and Ronnie Murray won the Plain Dealing Marshal race by a vote of 56-percent.
Benteler Steel announces a new facility at Port, $22 mill training facility at BPCC
The Port of Caddo/Bossier has attracted one of the largest manufacturing projects in northwest Louisiana’s history Oct. 26 with a $900-million, 1.35 million square feet, two-phase Benteler Steel/Tube facility.
The seamless steel tube and steel mills will bring 675 new jobs to the area.
To secure the project, Louisiana Economic Development offered Benteler a customized incentive package including the development of a new training facility and specialized equipment focused on manufacturing technology to be built on the campus of BPCC.
“We at Bossier Parish Community College take pride in delivering programs that meet the needs of these employers and provide our citizens pathways to rewarding careers,” Bossier Parish Community College Chancellor Jim Henderson said. “The training center will allow BPCC and FastStart to provide Benteler Steel/Tube a well-trained team on day one and will enhance our ability to develop talent for the manufacturing, construction, and energy sectors for decades to come.”
The new training center initially will focus on meeting the training needs of Benteler; once Benteler’s initial needs have been met, the facility will serve the broader needs of growing manufacturers throughout the region.
The total value of the new training center will be approximately $22 million, including land, infrastructure, building and equipment.
“The Greater Bossier Economic Development Foundation committed a large amount of money to this project to help bring it to fruition. We are very proud to be a partner with the port, the city and the parish of Bossier and LED to make this project a reality for our community,” said GBEDF Executive Director and President David “Rocky” Rockett. “Today marks a great day in Northwest Louisiana with all the aforementioned entities, as well as our partners in Caddo and Shreveport, working together to make a project of this size, scope and complexity – a reality.”
GBEDF, the City of Bossier City and the Bossier Parish Police Jury will contribute a combined $1 million, of the $22 million total, to provide road and other infrastructure improvements needed for the new training center.
An economic-impact analysis performed by Louisiana State University estimates that the project will lead to the creation of approximately 1,540 new indirect jobs and new earnings of $2.7 billion.
The site, located on 330 acres at the port, was selected after a lengthy, competitive site-selection process that included more than a dozen states and 100 potential sites.
Benteler Steel/Tube GmbH, based in Paderborn, Germany, has decades of experience in the development, production and sale of seamless hot-rolled and seamless cold-drawn steel tubes. The company is a business unit of privately held Benteler International AG, which is based in Salzburg, Austria.
Benteler will begin construction of the first phase of the plant in 2013, creating more than 1,000 construction jobs. The first tubular mill phase of Benteler’s Shreveport complex is expected to be completed in the second half of 2015, followed by the opening of a steel production mill within the next four years.
School bond approved, two new taxes voted down
Voters approved a 10-year bond that would renew the current 13.55 mills for the construction and renovation of schools over a 10-year period in an April 21 vote. However, they turned down two new taxes – a five percent pay raise for school employees at 9.25 mills and a $3 million recurring technology fund at 3.6 mills.
The Bossier Parish School Board came to a conclusion in November 2011 that there was a need to construct a new, state of the art technical school that would bring the existing school and instructors from its current location in Shreveport into Bossier Parish.
The decision was made to seek a 10-year bond that would generate $210 million at the current construction millage rate. While the first new tax proposal would generate $7.4 million for school employees. The second is a 3.6 millage rate that would generate $3 million for technology.
In March, the school board held open forums in each school district to allow public comment and questions. Despite the surprising low turnout, school board president Tammy Smith said they still presented the information to everyone who wanted to learn more.
Several community entities voiced opposition against the board’s plan, which caught Superintendent D.C. Machen off guard.
“We were surprised that long time partners that have been most supportive of the school system in the past felt obligated to take a stand against the plan, knowing the value an education system like Bossier’s has in the development of our community's future and prosperity.”
According to numbers on the Louisiana Secretary of State website, the construction bond passed with 4,498 votes (51 percent in favor of) while the pay raise failed with 5,082 votes (53 percent against) and technology with 5,157 votes (54 percent against).
Tammy Smith said she accepts the results for what it is — a win for all Bossier Schools.
“I think it’s a win for the children of Bossier Parish because this is the proposition that affects every child,” Smith said. “We are going to get updates to schools that are desperately needed and new schools in areas that need them.”
Bossier City settles lawsuit over south Bossier development
The Bossier City Council agreed at a special meeting Tuesday to settle with U.L. Coleman Company over a proposed development in south Bossier.
The City of Bossier City will enter into a Consent Decree and Cooperative Endeavor Agreement with U.L. Coleman Company, Sequoia venture No. 2, Ltd., A. Teague Parkway, L.L.C., and Walker Place, L.L.C. to facilitate and fund infrastructure in a 90-plus acre commercial and residential development in south Bossier.
The litigation filed in 2008 centered around the establishment the curb cut on the parkway for access to the proposed development to be located north of Walker Place. As part of the agreement, the city will grant the cut and a median cut on the parkway.
The city will also reimburse the company $10.4 million for infrastructure in the mixed use development; pay $1 million to develop greenspace for a park on city property north of the CenturyLink Center. U.L. Coleman Company will pay for the park’s design. n Pay for construction of an elevated pedestrian/bicycle walkway over the Teague Parkway in the vicinity of the proposed park; a transfer of 39.4 acres of city property for use in expanding the mixed use development to more than 90 acres. The property to be transferred is bordered by Walker Place, Barksdale Boulevard, Angelle Drive and CenturyLink Drive; pay $6.7 million in damages and costs.
Local economy keeps growing despite national trend of caution
Everywhere you look in Bossier, from the under construction Margaritaville resort-casino to shopping centers, it seems that business is growing.
“From 2011 to this time in 2012 we have seen marked interest in activity (in Bossier City),” said David “Rocky” Rockett, executive director and president of the Greater Bossier Economic Development Foundation (GBEDF).
Rockett said there is continued growth in population and housing, and he believes prospective businesses want to take advantage of that demographic.
“The market went through a lull through much of 2011, but we have seen a rise in activity in 2012 both with commercial and retail interest,” he said.
Louisiana’s economy as a whole has progressed from the 27th ranked state to 13th in a year. Moreover, CEOs nationwide named Louisiana “most improved state for business in the U.S.,” according to 2012 Chief Executive Magazine’s Best/Worst States for business ranking.
Rockett said the economic outlook for Bossier City looks positive as long as the market cooperates.
“As long as the market stays strong and the national economy lends itself to easier lending, then I think you’ll continue to see uptake in the economy,” he said. “If lending tightens up like it did in the recession a few years ago, I think you will see people holding their money.”
Even in Benton's growth in sales tax proved shoppers are heading to smaller towns.
“What's that an indication of? More business and more people buying in town,” said Mayor Wayne Cathcart. “Our sales tax revenue is up substantially this year than last year. That is a real indication that there is more business being done in Benton.”
Haughton citizens approve sewer upgrade
Haughton residents approved a $3.3 million bond to fund a sewer system upgrade.
Mayor Carlton Anderson encourages residents to vote yes, saying in a letter to the Press-Tribune, “In the next five years, there are approximately 273 houses and a new school already on the drawing board to be built. With the increase of homes and school, our sewer system is not adequate to accommodate this growth. The town is at least five years behind in getting the sewer plant updated.”
Brad Graff, city engineer, previously told the Press-Tribune that even with the new system, due to the rate of growth of the area, the system will need to be updated in less than 15 years.
“The town is in great need of upgrading the sewer system. The town has grown tremendously in the last 20 years, and with this growth there are issues on the size and condition of the sewer plant being sufficient for this growth,” Anderson's letter stated.
The Town Council originally planned to vote on the bond until a resident petition presented in a February town council meeting asked for the public's vote to approve the issue.
A previous feasibility study investigated the possibility of tying on to the new parish-wide sewer district. The city decided against joining due fear of future rate increases and the $3 million cost to just tie onto the system.
Under the loan, the city would obtain the money at .95 percent interest for 20 years. Anderson said in the letter that he is optimistic that it can be paid off in 10 years' time.
The upgrade would take roughly one year.
Legislators pass sweeping education reform
Gov. Bobby Jindal signed three historic education reform bills into law in April, paving the way for the creation of one of the nation’s largest school choice systems, a system where teachers are rewarded on performance and a coordinated early childhood development structure.
The Governor signed HB 974 and HB 976 both by State Representative Steve Carter and SB 581 by Senator Conrad Appel – at Redemptorist Elementary School in Baton Rouge, a private Catholic school expected to participate in the state’s expanded scholarship program.
“We have a moral imperative to improve the education system for our children, our state and our country, and these new laws will be a game-changer for Louisiana,” said Jindal.
HB 974 by Rep. Carter empowers effective teachers, supports ineffective teachers who want to improve, and rethinks district management to prioritize kids not adults. Among other elements of the law, more specific performance targets that consider student achievement and recruiting and retaining effective teachers would be required in the contracts of superintendents in C, D, and F districts. The law also requires school boards to delegate to the superintendent and principals hiring, firing, and teacher placement.
HB 976 by Rep. Carter expands choices and empowers parents by several ways, including the creation of three additional pathways to become a charter school. SB 581 by Sen. Appel creates a coordinated early childhood system framework focused on Kindergarten readiness.
The reform has been challenged in courts by the Bossier Parish School Board along with the LSBA and 33 other boards around the state over the constitutionality of Act 2, which implements a program that uses the public school funding formula to pay for students to attend private and parochial schools.